PhD students

Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Laboratory of Genetics

Kim Ferguson

Kim Ferguson

I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and in 2007 I started my Bachelor of Science at the University of Alberta. During my undergrad I was able to narrow my focus on ecology while still pursuing my appreciation for literature. I also did a summer abroad at Universität Kassel in Germany. I finished my degree in 2012 with a general BSc, majoring in Biological Sciences while minoring in English. A few months after graduating, I began my Masters of Science in Ecology at Universität Bremen in Germany, where I spent nearly three fantastic years. This culminated in my thesis on the effects of light pollution on bat behaviour, which I did as a guest student at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO) in Wageningen, and I received my MSc in early 2015.

After my MSc, I decided to shift gears and began looking for PhD opportunities that provided training in practical applications, as well as opportunities to learn genetic methods. And here I am, exploring the population genomics of three different invertebrate biocontrol species. I believe that my background will allow me to fully appreciate the scope of my project while assessing problems from an alternate perspective. Both biological control and genetic analysis were on my radar throughout my education; now I am able to focus on both and hopefully contribute to a great project. I’m also delighted to settle in The Netherlands after being an infrequent resident over the past two years.  In my free time, I like to travel throughout The Netherlands, listen to podcasts, and enjoy the Dutch outdoors, all the while complaining about the lack of snow. I also blog (irregularly) at and am on Twitter at @kfergy.

RP1: Population genomics of natural enemies

Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre

Shuwen Xia

Shuwen Xia

I was born and grew up in China. From 2009 to 2013, I studied at Zhejiang Ocean University (ZJOU) for my bachelor in fishery resource. In 2013, I was accepted by Norwegian university of life science (NMBU) as a master student in Aquaculture. Through the coursework during the first year of my master, I found that the course about genetics and breeding for aquatic animals was highly interesting. In order to specialize myself in aquaculture breeding program, I started my master thesis entitled “Genotype by environment interaction for early sexual maturity in Atlantic salmon” in Nofima AS. After graduation, I kept my eyes out for Ph.D. position recruitment because I think further study is important to me. I am so happy to be part of the BINGO-ITN project because I am really interested in this research proposal, which is expected to be carried out on the genomic scale. Looking back to my research background  on aquatic animals, this time, I will work with the parasitoid wasp Nasonia vitripennis as the object of my research. It is new to me, but I have confidence in myself to face the unforeseen challenges.

RP13: Genome-based selection for the improvement of natural enemies in biocontrol

University of Bremen, Germany

Institute of Ecology

Alejandra Centurion.jpg

Alejandra Centurión Carrera

I was born in the South of Mexico, a place with swamps and tropical jungle. I studied the Bachelor in Biology from 2008 to 2012 at Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco. The subject I liked the most was Pest Management so I decided to be part of the entomology laboratory at my hometown University. My bachelor´s thesis was about the symbiotic relationship between ants and aphids and their different host plants.

A change life opportunity came to me in 2012 when I traveled to the University of Arizona in the United States for a Summer Research Program and I worked with entomopathogenic nematodes. I enjoyed and learned so much from that experience that I decided to continue studying biocontrol with nematodes.
That decision took me to Belgium where I enrolled in the Master of Science in Nematology at Ghent University in 2013. I did my thesis at e-nema, a company in Kiel, Germany, on the control of the western corn rootworm with entomopathogenic nematodes, and I graduated in 2015.

Now, moving forward on my career, I am very excited to start my PhD with a different and fresh view on biocontrol and to be part of this important project. Although the work with wasps and genetic methods are new for me, I am ready for the challenge.

In my free time I enjoy to do craft works, hiking and reading. I am also a bit of a gamer.

RP4: Clutch size, sex ratio, and differential mortality in the Bracon hebetor - B. brevicornis species complex

Sophie Chattington

Sophie Chattington

I was born and brought up in a rural area of the Scottish Highlands. Spending most of my childhood exploring the outdoors, from a young age I grew an appreciation for the insects and plants surrounding me. I was always collecting and rearing different insects I found outside!

I followed my undergraduate studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, where I became increasingly interested in insect-insect and plant-insect interactions, and the chemical communication in such interactions. I carried out my Bachelor thesis at the Université de Neuchâtel in Switzerland, where I studied the effect of the presence of different parasitoid species on the fitness of cabbage plants infested by the cabbage white butterfly. I graduated with BSc. Hons. Biology with French (for Scientists) in 2013.

I continued my education at Lund University, Sweden, studying a Masters in Ecology. My studies focused on Chemical Ecology, following courses and carrying out projects at both Lund University and the nearby Alnarp campus of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). I carried out my Masters thesis at SLU, in which I studied the effect of larval diet and population density on larval immune response and preference, and their effects on memory transfer between larval and adult stages in the noctuid moth Spodoptera littorals.

I also worked as a research assistant in the Chemical Ecology unit of the Department of Plant Protection Biology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Here I worked mainly with two projects. The first, looking at the mechanisms underlying different levels of polyphagy in different strains of a noctuid moth. The second, looking at the influence of plant domestication on a plants' herbivore resistance, and thus it's interaction with below- and above ground herbivores.

The work I have carried out so far has had an ultimate aim towards biocontrol, with a focus on understanding the mechanisms of herbivore-host-parasitoid from a chemical, behavioural, and genetic point of view. Within the BINGO network, I am excited to work on such an applied project looking at what actually happens once a beneficial insect has been released as biocontrol.

RP12: Monitoring pre- and post-release diversity in local parasitoid populations

University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Evolutionary Genetics

Kelley Leung

Kelley Leung

My family is from China, but up until now I have lived my whole life in the United States. My research experience began with a bachelor’s project in zebrafish developmental genetics at the University of Chicago. For my Masters, I decided to focus on evolution and conservation genetics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where I studied the remaining distributions and phylogenetics of an imperiled land snail group, the endemic Hawaiian Helicinidae. I graduated with a MSc in entomology in 2015.

While I was working on my Masters, I became interested in biocontrol, which has a complex history of successes and failures in Hawaii (and worldwide) for controlling invasive species and agricultural pests. The head of my department, who is a biocontrol specialist, brought BINGO to my attention. It was the perfect intersection of my existing interest in the genetic/genomic basis for phenotype, and my new interest in optimizing biocontrol practice. I am happy to return to a model organism (the parasitoid wasp Nasonia vitripennis) so that I can conduct more in-depth genetic investigations. I hope that my work will help improve global food security and reduce dependency on pesticides. Outside of research, I like to draw and paint, and greatly enjoy cooking.

RP5: Genomic basis of life history traits and reproductive potential

Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, France

Institute Sophia Agrobiotech

Wouter Plouvier

Wouter Plouvier

Although I was born in Costa Rica, I have lived most of my life in Belgium, the birth country of my father. My mother is originally from the South-American country of Suriname and I had the pleasure of living there during my high school years.

I completed my higher education at the University of Ghent in Belgium. My first real research experience was gained during my bachelor project. I choose to work in the field of terrestrial ecology and studied the effect of egg pigmentation on the maternal quality in common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus). For my master dissertation I decided to focus more on plant-insect interactions and found myself getting immersed in the field of ecological modeling. I worked on the impact of habitat fragmentation on the structure and evolution in plant-associated food webs. To this end, I created an ecological model in the programming language Python. I graduated with a Master Degree in Ecology and Biodiversity in 2015, with a minor in Economics.

While I was working for my master degree I became more interested in agriculture and plant-insect interactions. Following some economic courses, I started to get more interested in the practical applications of research and wanted to contribute to improve global food production, through different means than pesticides. I also became more interested in computational biology, and wanted to improve my programming skills in relation to the field of ecological modeling. When I found out about the BINGO network, I immediately became enthusiastic. I am happy that I will be able to increase my knowledge in biological control and master new computational skills. I hope to contribute to the increase of healthy and sustainable agricultural practices.

In my free time, I enjoy travelling and photography. I also practice athleticism and swimming.

RP7: Improving pest control efficiency: a modelling approach

Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Agrarias, Spain


3 Angeliki Paspati LR.JPG

Angeliki Paspati

I am a Greek PhD student at the Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Agrarias in Valencia.

Since my high school years biology has been a source of creativity that led to my bachelor studies at the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Democritus University of Thrace (DUTH). My diploma thesis was carried out at the University of Barcelona (UoB) and the aim was to characterize the evolutionary lineages of a Balearic Mygalomorph spider genus, with a rather obscure taxonomic status, and infer the ecological processes that induced their colonization of the islands.

Following, I decided to continue further with research, this time at Masters level, on Ecology and Evolution, at the University of Groningen (RUG). My first research project on Evolutionary Genetics investigated the expression of candidate genes for encapsulation, a cellular immune reaction of insects. My thesis project was completed at the Marine Evolution and Conservation research group, where I explored the connectivity and population structure of Right whales worldwide. In this way, genuine scientific curiosity and hard work have led me into the field of population genetics, complementing my laboratory techniques with insights from bioinformatic analyses.

The aim of my project is to explore the natural genetic variation existing in strains of Amblyseius swirskii, a predatory mite used as a biological control agent in a range of crops and to promote its adaptability on tomato plants (Solanum lycopersicum), using artificial selection and experimental evolution. My excitement on participating in the BINGO network emerges from the unique opportunity to investigate a subject as complicated and valuable as the adaptation of natural enemies on plants.

RP3: Promoting adaptability of Amblyseius swirskii predatory mites to tomato crop

Milena Chinchila Ramírez

Milena Chinchilla Ramírez

Born and raised in Costa Rica and with about 5% of the world’s biodiversity contained within the borders of my country I was excited about science and biology at a very young age. My first contact with biological control was during my undergraduate project in which I evaluated the establishment of two biocontrol agents (Aphidius colemani and Amblyseius swirskii) to tropical conditions for control of aphids and whiteflies in outdoor cantaloupe. The company I did my graduation project with hired me and sent me to Almeria, Spain for 7 months in order to be trained in IPM with Koppert Biological Systems. During that training I was an IPM technician mostly in bell pepper, cucumber, eggplant, and tomato crops, training the growers on the proper use of biocontrol agents A. swirskii, Orius laevigatus, Encarsia formosa, Eretmocerus mundus and Phytoseiulus persimilis as well as pollination with Bombus terrestris. Following my training, I worked for the Koppert distributor in Central America for almost 6 years selling biocontrol agents and implementing IPM programs in ornamentals, vegetables and fruits in protected and outdoor conditions.

My passion about insects in agriculture led me to reenter academia to pursue a Masters in Entomology in Texas A&M where I focused on plant-insect interactions. I studied the mutual impacts in the specialist herbivore Dalbulus maidis and its host plant plants in the genus Zea (maize), focusing on plant tolerance and insect morphometry. The BINGO project represents a perfect platform to continue my career in IPM and biocontrol, to learn from leading scientists in the field and state-of-the-art technologies available at the different institutions and companies of the consortium, and to contribute to the improvement and promotion of more sustainable pest control approaches in agriculture.

When I am not dealing with bugs I like to cook, bake and exercise as much as time permits. I also enjoy reading about human behavior and psychology in general.

RP10: Minimizing plant damage through selected Nesidiocoris tenuis

Biologicke centrum AV CR, v.v.i., Czech Republic

Institute of Entomology / Laboratory of Molecular Cytogenetics

Sander Visser

Sander Visser

I was born and raised in the Netherlands. I started studying biology at the University of Groningen. During my bachelor my main focus was on evolutionary research. For my Master I continued at the University of Groningen where I started studying interactions between microbial organisms. After some time I realized that my main interest lies in evolutionary genetics. Therefore, during my final years of Master, I studied the polymorphic sex determination system in the housefly, Musca domestica. I received my Master’s degree in Ecology and Evolution in 2015.

During my Master, my supervisor informed me about the BINGO projects. Being able to use fundamental research and apply it to the practical application of biocontrol is what attracted me most to these projects. I am excited to use my experience with sex determination systems on a different organism expanding my knowledge on insect sex determination cascades. The results of my project will hopefully benefit many scientists by eliminating one of the major health risks of working with the Mediterranean flour moth, E. kuehniella.

RP2: Mutation genetics in the flour moth, Ephestia kuehniella

Vetmeduni Vienna, Austria

Institute for Population Genetics

Manolis Lirakis

Manolis Lirakis

I have been interested in insects since my Bachelor studies. I am amazed by their diversity and the fact that they offer opportunities for basic and applied research. For my Bachelor thesis, I studied insect communities in rivers. For my Master thesis, I shifted towards bioinformatics and -omics, studying insecticide resistance in mosquitoes, in a genomic and transcriptomic context. All my previous studies were conducted at the Biology Department, University of Crete, Greece.

Insecticide resistance is the main flaw of insect chemical control. In addition to this, the use of insecticides is threatening food safety, public and ecosystem health. However, chemical control is not the only strategy for confronting harmful insects. Biological control is a promising methodology to safely deal with pests through the use of biological agents (natural enemies, pathogens etc.). Following my desire to shift from chemical to biological control research and establish myself in that field, I applied for an ESR position within the BINGO (Breeding Invertebrates for Next Generation BioControl) Innovative Training Network.

As a Ph.D. student of BINGO, I am hosted by the Vienna Graduate School of Population Genetics, where I study diapause in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Diapause is an important adaptation that allows many insects to overwinter. D. melanogaster enters an ovarian reproductive diapause, where adult females have immature ovaries and previtellogenic oocytes. The genetic basis of this ecologically extremely important trait is not yet well understood. During this project, I will map the genetic variants contributing to diapause in natural D. melanogaster populations. Expected evolutionary conservation of these genetic variants in natural enemies will provide the ability to control diapause in these biological agents and thus offer improved flexibility in their rearing, storage and shipping.

RP9: Identification and characterization of naturally occurring variation affecting reproductive diapause

Koppert BV, The Netherlands


Sophie Le Hesran

Sophie Le Hesran

I come from France, and I have been living in Africa for 10 years, in Cameroon and Senegal.

While studying in a horticulture engineer school in France, I decided to specialize in entomology and biological control. After my first year of Masters, I carried out an internship on ant nutrition in the Research Center for Animal Cognition (CRCA, CNRS) in Toulouse (France). One year later, for my Masters thesis, I studied the influence of an invasive ant (Linepithema humile) on the cork oaks roots in the Doñana National Park in the south of Spain. I have experienced and truly enjoyed both laboratory and field work during these two internships, and they strengthened me in my choice to continue in research.

I applied for this PhD project on the predatory mite Phytoseiulus persimilis because I wanted to be part of an applied research project with insects or mites. As I have done my internships in public research institutes during my studies, it is a great opportunity for me to do my PhD in a biological control company, while keeping a strong connection with Wageningen University. This project will also allow me to carry out laboratory and semi-field work (in greenhouses), which I really appreciate.

Outside of my PhD project, I enjoy playing the piano, dancing, traveling and learning languages. I speak Spanish and English fluently, French as my mother tongue, and I am currently learning Dutch.

RP11: Expanding the range of uses of Phytoseiulus persimilis

Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations FAO, International

The Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture Austria

Giota Koskinioti 146.jpg

Panagiota Koskinioti

I was born and raised in Sofades, a beautiful, small Greek town in the countryside. Being close to nature during most of my childhood years I developed a great interest in the biology of life. When the time came that I had to choose the topic of my studies, I decided to enrol at University of Thessaly in Greece and pursue my studies in Biochemistry & Biotechnology. My interest in Molecular Entomology originated from the period of my Bachelor project and was further developed during my MSc thesis where I studied the genetic basis of host-insect interactions in the Mediterranean fruit fly.  During this period, I gained a deeper knowledge and awareness in regard to the sustainability and security of food production that is threatened by a variety of insect pest species. My continuous concern about the protection of the ecosystem in addition to my origin from an agricultural family inspired me to expand my knowledge and join the scientific community that fights for the secure food production through population management of agricultural pests using environmentally friendly methods. In terms of that, I decided to enrol on the PhD program at the University of Thessaly, and since then I am working on a wide variety of projects that aim to provide molecular and genetic tools to facilitate the biological control of pests based on the genetic and symbiotic background of the insects.

During my PhD studies, I had the opportunity to perform an internship at the Insect Pest Control Laboratory of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division and gained more knowledge about both insect rearing and the application of the molecular/genetic tools in the field. During this internship a great opportunity arose, when an Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) position that would be based at the Insect Pest Control Laboratory for the BINGO-ITN project was announced. So, I seized the opportunity and now I am glad to participate in such a great team. The aim of my project is to optimize breeding for the olive fly and its parasitoid wasps through symbiotic bacterial manipulation, thus, improving their mass rearing towards large scale AW-IPM applications with a sterile insect technique (SIT) component. The BINGO project constitutes an ideal way for me to gain more knowledge about applied biocontrol approaches and contribute to the development of such methods which should be the main purpose for each researcher in this field after all.

RP8: Optimization of mass rearing of Bactrocera oleae and its parasitoids

Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International, International

Arthropod Biological Control Laboratory, CABI Switzerland Centre at Delémont

Judith Stahl

Judith Stahl

My background is agricultural science and I have always been interested in diseases and pests. For this reason I did my bachelor thesis at the University of Rostock in microbiological animal health. For my master I switched to crop protection at the University of Hohenheim and conducted my thesis about gene silencing of the Asian soybean rust.

During my bachelor I began to get interested in entomology which I started to explore afterwards with respect to chemical ecology. My master courses gave me a theoretical basis of biological control but the PhD at the Swiss CABI centre is my first actual work experience in this field. I especially enjoy the applied approach, the international setting and the feeling of doing something useful.

I am from Heidelberg, Germany, like to read, enjoy learning new things and being outside.

RP6: Benefits and risks of using native parasitoids for augmentaive biological control of the invasive pest Halyomorpha halys in Europe