Chase Martin

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Chase Martin joined the Texas A&M Agrilife family after graduating from the University of North Texas with a B.S. Biology Degree in 2018. Chase has been involved in research with crapemyrtle bark scale since 2019, working under the supervision of the now-retired Dr. Mike Merchant, Extension Specialist at the Dallas Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center. After Dr. Merchant’s retirement (2020), Chase has continued to work on several research projects on crapemyrtle bark scale at the Dallas center as a part of the Six Legged Aggie Team, including residual efficacy of drench insecticides, impact of fire ants on crapemyrtle bark scale populations, and impact of natural enemy exclusion on crapemyrtle bark scale.

Grace Levy

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Grace Levy joined the Six-Legged Aggie Team in May of 2021. She graduated with a B.S. in Biology in 2018 and graduated with a M.S. in Entomology and Plant Pathology in 2020. As part of her Master’s research, she studied types of host plant resistance in wheat against bird cherry-oat aphids (Rhopalosiphum padi). Grace is now involved in the crapemyrtle bark scale research including phenology studies and interactions between red imported fire ants and crapemyrtle bark scale.

In her free time, Grace enjoys reading, camping, traveling, playing board games, and spending time with her husband and two dogs.

Dr. Samuel Vezenegho

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Dr. Samuel Vezenegho is has been added as an invaluable member of the SixLegged Aggie Team. He earned his PhD in Medical Entomology and a Master of Science with distinction in Molecular Cell Biology, from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. During this time, he focused on the systematics and insecticide resistance mechanisms in African malaria mosquito vectors. Dr. Vezenegho completed a post-doctoral fellowship as a lead scientist with Institute Pasteur, Cayenne, French Guinea, where he elucidated malaria transmission mechanisms in different epidemiological context. He has presented his research findings at international conferences, supervised team of researchers in the field and published over 10 peer review scholarly articles in international journals

Dr. Vezenegho’s current research interest aim to use cutting edge molecular biology techniques to answer key questions that will unravel insecticide resistance mechanisms and  vector competence in both mosquito vectors and agricultural insect pest. His ultimate goal is to develop novel vector control tools that will form a vital component in integrated pest management strategy.

Are you wondering if Dr. Samuel Vezenegho has a life outside of science? Wonder no more, yes, he does! Affectionately known as Samy Vez in the dance scene, he is a long-time social dancer and a dance instructor who teaches Kizomba, a partner dance from Angola. He was a finalist in the Urban Kiz category of the 2018 North America Kizomba Olympiads. He has learned invaluable leadership skills from top-notch leaders in the sciences, and from teaching partner dance. He has also done copious amounts of leadership research, which he combined with his lived experience to develop a Kizomba-based leadership training course for teams and organizations.

Christine Bays

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Christine and David working on mealybug trialChristine Bays joined the Six-Legged Aggie Lab in May of 2019. She is a Sophomore at the University of Texas at Tyler and is earning her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry. Christine also works in an Ant Symbiosis Lab at UT Tyler, studying the relationship between fungus-gardening ants and their fungus. Christine is currently considering pursuing pharmacy school, assuming she doesn’t get bit by the ferocious entomology bug! 

This summer, Christine will be helping with research on crapemyrtle bark scale, whitefly biological control, mealybug insecticide efficacy, and other small research trials. We are excited to have her as a part of the six legged aggie team this summer.

In her free time, Christine likes to take care of the vegetable and flower gardens her family grows. She also enjoys playing video games, swimming, going to the movies, and drinking coffee. She also loves animals and has two cats of her own.

Dr. Francine Soares – Ext. Demonstration Technician

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Dr. Francine Soares joined the Six Legged Aggie Team near the end of May as an Extension Demonstration Technician. She is a true asset to the team as we continue to research solutions to common and upcoming pest problems impacting the greenhouse and nursery industry in Texas.

Francine Soares is a graduate of Santa Catarina State University (2006, Brazil) with a B.Sc. in Agronomy; she has a M.Sc in Genetic, Plant Breeding and Biotechnology of Plants from Agronomic Institute of Campinas (2009, Brazil) and Ph.D in Plant Genetic Resources from Federal University of Santa Catarina. She previously worked for 2 years as technical manager of in vitro micropropagation of banana plants at Flora Biotecnologia Company (Brazil) before she moved to USA. She has a strong research background in cell biology and physiology of plant development, biotechnology of plants, plant breeding and conservation of plants. During her Ph.D research she studied cellular and biochemistry parameters associated with development of somatic and zygotic embryos of Brazilian pine (Araucaria angustifolia) gymnosperm species native from Brazil.

Dr. Soares is very happy to be a part of our team and she is very excited to improve her knowledge in this new field as well as share her previous knowledge and experiences. In her free time Dr. Soares likes cooking and enjoys time with her family.

Dr. Soares will be assisting Erfan Vafaie as an Extension Demonstration Technician on the project of crapemyrtle bark scale, biological control of Bemisia tabaci in poinsenttia production, as well as assisting in projects to test the impact of new pesticides on plant health and insect management.

Jon Nemati – Ext. Demonstration Tech

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Jonathan Nemati first joined the Six-legged Aggie team in early May of 2015 before returning to the center in April 2017. He graduated from LeTourneau University in 2016 with a B.S. in Biology.

He has had an interest in wildlife since he was little, collecting and observing a wide variety of wildlife as a hobby as well as studying to improve his knowledge of them. He also enjoys reading, hunting, hiking, fishing and a wide variety of sports. He intends to pursue graduate studies in ecology.

Jon’s role this summer will be to assist in data collection, analysis, and writing reports related to crapemyrtle bark scale, aphid, and thrips management.

Briton Grove – Ext. Demonstration Tech

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Briton Grove is a graduate of University of Texas at Tyler with a BS in Biology and a minor in Biochemistry. 

She is interested in how the study of insects could help advance our understanding of antibiotics and disease. Her previous research experience including studying how CRISPRs grant acquired immunity to many viruses and how this tool could be used in autism research. She intends to start a master’s program this fall (2017) at University of Texas at Tyler, concentrating on entomology. For her master’s thesis, she will examine the roles that bacteria play in the stabilization of fungus-gardening ants and their symbiont fungi, including the use of antimicrobial compounds.

In her free time, Ms. Grove enjoys camping, traveling, and gardening. She also gives back to her local community by volunteering with Texas Mission of Mercy as a dental assistant, providing free dental care to low income residents.

Ms. Grove will be assisting Erfan Vafaie with research on the crapemyrtle bark scale, thrips, and aphid management this summer as an Extension Demonstration Technician.

Chris Knight – Ext. Demonstration Tech

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Christopher Knight is a graduate from Texas Tech University with a B.Sc. in Horticulture and Turfgrass Science, where he was a member of the Honor Society for Ornamental Horticulture (Pi Alpha xi).  He previously worked for the Texas Tech University Library and currently works part-time for the Tyler Junior College library, providing him with the skills required to conduct literature research and shush disruptive library pests. Mr. Knight also spent time as a Lawn Specialist for TruGreen, the nations largest lawn company, giving him practical experiencing in landscaping and working with ornamentals.  Mr. Knight enjoys spending his free time hunting and fishing, as well as continuing as a hobbyist horticulturalist.       

 Mr. Knight will be assisting with research on the crapemyrtle bark scale this summer, as well as assisting in projects to test the impact of new pesticides on plant health and insect management.


Extension Demonstration Tech – Adolfo Nieto

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Adolfo Nieto is a recent graduate from The University of Texas at Tyler with a bachelors in Biology. As an undergraduate, he began his career as a researcher through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in a project to design non-invasive sampling methods to identify the virology involved in Colony Collapse Disorder of native bumblebees. He has a deep felt passion for conservation and hopes his enthusiasm transcends through his work at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Extension Center in Overton, Texas where he will be involved in several projects targeted at prevention and management of invasive insect species such as the crape myrtle bark scale and conduct work on pollinator attractiveness to different flowers. Adolfo is happy to be part of such a great team and looks forward to facing the challenges and opportunities future research will bring.