Thomas Sparks, ESA Fellow (2012)

Dr. Thomas C. Sparks, a Dow Research Fellow at Dow AgroSciences in Indianapolis, IN, was elected as Fellow in 2012. He is internationally recognized for his research in insect toxicology, biochemistry, and insecticide discovery, especially related to the spinosyn class of chemistry. 

Sparks was born in 1951, in San Francisco, CA and grew up in a farming community in the Central Valley. He obtained a B.A. in biology with a minor in chemistry from Fresno State University in 1973, and a Ph.D. in entomology from the University of California, Riverside in 1978.  Sparks’ research focused on insect endocrinology, biochemistry, and toxicology. 

In 1978, Sparks joined the Department of Entomology at Louisiana State University (LSU) as the insect toxicologist.  Over the next 11 years his research at LSU covered endocrine regulation of insect metamorphosis, insecticide resistance, and insecticide biochemistry and toxicology.  He taught introductory and advanced courses in insecticide toxicology.  A full professor, Sparks left LSU in 1989 and joined the agrochemical research group at Elanco, which shortly thereafter became part of DowElanco (now Dow AgroSciences), where for the past 24 years Sparks has worked in Discovery Research. 

Sparks coordinated aspects of spinosad’s development and exploration of the spinosyn chemistry for the next generation product. Sparks investigated, and then applied, the radical approach of using artificial neural networks for the analysis of the quantitative structure activity relationships for the spinosyn chemistry.  The results led to the next generation product, spinetoram.  Spinetoram provided an expanded spectrum, improved efficacy and residual activity, while maintaining the excellent toxicological and environmental profile established by spinosad. 

Additionally, Sparks has led discovery efforts resulting in identification of numerous insecticidal chemistries, many are still active research areas for Dow AgroSciences.  He led the characterization of the biochemical basis for lack of resistance to sulfoxaflor, an insecticide for the control of sap-feeding insect pests. Also, since 2008, Sparks has been a member of the Insecticide Resistance Action Committee’s (IRAC) Mode of Action Working Group (Chair 2008-2013), and a member of the Editorial Board for Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology.  In 2010 he was an organizing member and a symposium chair for the IUPAC International Congress on Pesticide Chemistry in Melbourne Australia, and in 2012 hosted the Annual Meeting of IRAC International in Indianapolis. 

The novelty and attributes of spinetoram were recognized in 2008 with an EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, and Sparks’ efforts were recognized in 2009 with R&D Magazine naming him the 2009 Scientist of the Year, the first in the 50-year history of the award for a scientist in agriculture.  In 2012 Sparks’ research was recognized by the American Chemical Society (ACS), Agrochemical Division by presenting him with the ACS International Award for Research in Agrochemicals. Sparks currently holds more than 20 patents/patent applications and has published extensively with 150 referred journal publications, book chapters, and other articles. 

Sparks and his wife Sandi have three children, Nicole, Kristina, and Janine.  He enjoys writing, technology history, and photography.

Updated, January 2014