Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

News : Mike Scharf (BS '91, MS '93, PhD '97), UF research finds termite enzymes could be boon to cellulosic ethanol

Purdue appoints first chair in urban entomology, Michael Scharf
​by Keith RobinsonPurdue News Service
Mike Scharf

Michael Scharf has been appointed as the first O. Wayne Rollins/Orkin Endowed Chair in Urban Entomology at Purdue University.


The appointment was announced Tuesday (Nov. 30) by Steve Yaninek, head of the entomology department.


"Dr. Scharf’s accomplishments represent the complete package as a scholar who works on cutting-edge questions to address real-world problems," Yaninek said. "He is an envoy the pest management industry knows and trusts and an academic ready to educate the next generation of scientists."


Demand is growing in urban areas for new technologies to control persistent urban pests such as cockroaches, ants and termites and emerging problems such as bedbugs. Scharf brings new skills and expertise in molecular biology to the Center for Urban and Industrial Pest Management at Purdue. The center and the endowed chair are products of a unique partnership between the department and the urban pest management industry that spans 75 years. 


The chair was funded with a $1.5 million gift from the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation, established by and named for the late owner and president of pest control leader, Orkin.


"The O. Wayne Rollins Foundation is delighted to have Dr. Scharf as the first chair in urban entomology," said Gary W. Rollins, foundation trustee, chief executive, president and chief operating officer of Rollins Inc. "Dr. Scharf’s impressive background and expertise will be very valuable in developing research and technologies for the pest control industry to continue to safeguard public health thoughtfully and responsibly. Purdue has a long been on the cutting edge of such research, and Dr. Scharf is the perfect selection to continue this important work." 


Scharf has developed a nationally recognized program in molecular insect physiology that features toxicology, gene identification and cloning, development and metamorphosis, and cellulosics. Recent research of his demonstrates the prospects of using termites as a simpler and less expensive method to convert plant material to ethanol, including his discovery of two enzymes in termites used to break up lignin, a major obstacle in the production of cellulosic ethanol.


His research in pest management has involved a wide range of insect species, including termites, cockroaches, corn rootworms, borers, houseflies, mosquitoes, mole crickets, chinch bugs, midges and honeybees.


Scharf obtained his doctoral degree in insect toxicology and urban entomology from Purdue in 1997, a master’s in urban entomology from Purdue in 1993 and a bachelor’s in entomology from Purdue in 1991. He was visiting scholar in insect molecular biology at Cardiff University in Wales, U.K., in 1995.  Scharf was most recently an associate professor of entomology at the University of Florida,


The O. Wayne Rollins Foundation, created in 1967, continues the mission of the man who founded Orkin’s parent company. The foundation’s goal is to support medical research and public health issues at colleges and universities. 


In 1964 O. Wayne Rollins and his brother, John, purchased Orkin Exterminating, a company founded in 1901 by 14-year-old Latvian immigrant Otto Orkin.  O. Wayne Rollins died in 1991. His son, Gary, is currently chairman of Orkin’s board of directors.