Leslie Pick, ESA Fellow (2016)

Dr. Leslie Pick, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland (UM), was elected as Fellow in 2016. She is internationally known for her work on the function and evolution of genes regulating embryonic development in insects, with much of her work using the powerful genetic tools available for the model insect Drosophila melanogaster.

Pick grew up in the Bronx, New York. She attended the Bronx High School of Science, but not until after graduation from Wesleyan University did she discover her love for science. As a young college graduate unsure of career direction, she was fortunate to get a job as a research technician with renowned developmental geneticist Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch. She went on to earn a Ph.D. degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine with Jerry Hurwitz in 1986, studying biochemical mechanisms involved in RNA processing. Her postdoctoral research with Walter Gehring, Basel, Switzerland, began her studies of Drosophila molecular genetics. Pick took her first faculty position at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York City in 1990. She moved to the Entomology Department at UM in 2003 and became chair of that department in 2013.

Pick’s early work investigated the regulation of genes that control embryonic development using Drosophila as a model system. More recently, she expanded her research program to study the functional evolution of regulatory genes identified in Drosophila in a range of other insects representing diverse developmental strategies. These “evo-devo” studies have revealed unexpected variation in the expression and function of Hox and other embryonic transcription factors, along with rewiring of regulatory networks controlling insect segmentation. Her studies have also included investigations of insulin signaling pathways, using Drosophila as a model for diabetes. Finally, Pick’s lab is investigating the use of genetic technologies for insect pest control.

Pick has devoted significant effort throughout the course of her career to mentoring, with an emphasis on graduate education. She served as director of the UM graduate program in molecular and cell biology and is program director for a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-T32 training grant supporting graduate students. She trained nine postdoctoral fellows, 15 graduate students, and numerous technicians, undergraduates, and high school students in her lab. Pick’s research has been supported by the NIH, National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. Department of Agriculture, and private foundations such as the March of Dimes. She has served on grant review panels and as program director at NSF, and received a 2015 UM Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award. Pick has published over 50 scholarly articles, and has edited several compilations, most recently a Current Topics in Developmental Biology volume entitled “Fly Models of Human Diseases.”

Pick resides in Columbia, Maryland, with her husband, Ron Kohanski, a biochemist. She has two children, Alex and Emma, and three stepchildren, Michael, Anna, and Samson. Alex is completing a double major in theater and Slavic studies at Northwestern University, and Emma, a high school sophomore, is a dancer with plans to study fashion design.

(updated November, 2016)