Please tell us about yourself

The whiff of stink bugs was expected.

Walking through farm fields in southeast Texas, an entomologist mainly uses vision to spot insects and relies on years of education and field experience to mentally catalog which are good bugs and which will sicken a farmer’s crop into devastation.

But stink bugs are different. They, well, stink. And, there are lots of different kinds of stink bugs. Some don’t harm plants. Some do. But they all stink.

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So Dr. Mo Way followed not just the obvious odor but his considerable hunches after noticing a different stink bug appearing in several soybean fields near the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Beaumont where he’s an entomologist.

And Way knew what to do. He pointed a graduate student toward the insect – the redbanded stink bug – to determine if a bigger problem was at hand.

“Redbanded stink bug is an invasive species on soybeans,”  Way said. “It’s the most damaging species on soybeans in our area now and perhaps across the southern U.S., and yet we didn’t know much about it.”

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

Suhas Vyavhare, was a new doctoral graduate student at the time assigned to the Beaumont research facility after recently completing a master’s in entomology at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. For Vyavhare, working toward a doctorate from the soybean fields of southeast Texas rather than a classroom on a university campus was the fulfillment of a dream he’d had since growing up on a farm in India.

He did his BSc (Agriculture) from College of Agriculture, Pune India and MS (Plant, Soil and Environmental Science) and PhD (Entomology) from from Texas A&M University.

Tell us about your work

In the case of the redbanded stink bug, Vyavhare scanned the world to find out what was known about the insect. After gathering biological information from experts in various countries and studying the insect’s life in southeast Texas soybean fields, he developed a pest management program and published several scholarly articles about the insect.“I was always curious about agriculture and knew I wanted to be in that area for my career. I was good at identifying insects in college, so I guess that is how I was led to entomology,” said Vyavhare, who recently completed his doctorate and now is a post-doctoral researcher at the center.

“He found that the redbanded stink bug was responsible for delayed maturity and flat pod syndromes in soybean fields,” Way said. “We didn’t know the cause. We thought it might be stink bugs, but he pinned it down. And he also found out what stage of soybeans is most susceptible.”

“He was able to do things I can’t do because often I am ‘putting out fires,’” Way said of Vyavhare. “When a farmer calls me needing to know what to do about a problem in the field, I have to redirect my attention to try to answer those questions. So graduate students and postdocs can really help researchers like me do long-range research that’s really important.”

His work, while helpful for soybean producers and ultimately for consumers of the multitude of soy-based products, is but one example of the efforts of graduate students stationed at remote AgriLife Research locations around the state. In all, the 13 sites will have at least 100 graduate students working on projects this fall.

Researchers agree that having graduate students such as Vyavhare is a boon for science.