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DAA: Michael R. Kanost

Michael Kanost

Michael R. Kanost

Manhattan, KS | Distinguished Ag Alumni: 2008

In the research laboratories of Michael Kanost, flour beetles, mosquitoes, and tobacco hornworms are never considered pests. Rather, insects are welcome subjects in the ongoing quest to understand the inner workings of their immune systems — research that could help control their population and protect our good health. The journey between man and bug began at Purdue University, where Kanost’s post-graduate work focused on specific proteins in an insect’s blood that comprise its immune system. Throughout subsequent decades of research initiatives — from three years as a postdoctoral fellow in the biology department at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, to spearheading studies as head of the biochemistry department at Kansas State University — Kanost’s laboratories have gained a reputation among the nation’s elite in insect immunity. Under Kanost’s direction, research teams probe compelling questions: When insects contract diseases, why don’t they get sick? Or, when a mosquito carries the malaria pathogen, why doesn’t its immune system kill the microorganism? The answers, Kanost believes, lie in a systems-level understanding of the insect immune response — a notable departure from traditional reductionist approaches. “If we can interrupt the pathogen’s life in an insect, we can affect the cycle of diseases, such as malaria, which they transmit to humans,” Kanost says. These and other innovative research efforts are supported by nearly $8 million in grants from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and United States Department of Agriculture. Kanost frequently encounters his research specimens outside the laboratories as well. A dedicated runner, he shares the great outdoors with all forms of friendly arthropods when he tackles workouts ranging from a lunch-hour jog to the Kansas City half-marathon. “Purdue University offered outstanding opportunities for my development as a scientist, through excellent teaching and advice from faculty in entomology and biochemistry and an atmosphere of generosity, with freedom to pursue my research interests.”