New Faculty Profile: Swale Studies Insects to Improve Human Lives

Kyle Peveto

Growing up, Daniel Swale never dreamed of preventing pest-borne diseases or saving honeybees.

“My goal was to become a professional fisherman my whole life,” he said.

But once he gave college a try, Swale became captivated by the limitless potential of science.

“I always enjoyed biology more than any other discipline because I think you could pave a path forward and discover an unknown,” Swale said.

An insect physiologist with a background in physiology and toxicology, Swale is a researcher in the LSU AgCenter Department of Entomology. At the AgCenter, Swale studies physiological systems that are unexplored in insects and asks if these pathways can be exploited to control insects that transmit deadly pathogens.

His research program primarily focuses on potassium ion channels and transporters in mosquitoes, ticks, flies and bees. These channels can be used to either kill a pest or save a beneficial insect.

“That’s the cool part about physiology,” Swale said. “You can tweak it whichever way you want to tweak it.”

In 2016, Swale and entomologist Kristen Healy received a Grand Challenges Explorations Grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to research ways to control malaria-transmitting mosquitoes in Kenya using an innovative control platform that utilizes a newly developed insecticide that Swale and his colleagues at Vanderbilt University and Ohio State University developed along with an established insecticide that targets mosquito offspring. These chemicals may alleviate the insecticide resistance that is ubiquitous throughout Africa. They represent a viable alternative and may help reduce malaria transmission, Swale said.

Swale is working with governmental agencies fighting mosquitoes in Louisiana to develop new ways to deploy these insecticides. These same chemicals could be used to fight other mosquito-borne diseases, such as West Nile virus or Zika.

In June, Swale and Healy received nearly $1 million to study honeybee health. And recently Swale was honored by the Entomological Society of America with an early career professional award for research.

Growing up, Swale’s father was in the military, and Swale lived in seven states by the time he started high school. He loved hunting and bass fishing and envisioned himself fishing for trophies and prize money until he was convinced to attend Christopher Newport University in Virginia to pursue a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry. He specialized in insect biochemistry, physiology and toxicology while earning a master’s degree at Virginia Tech and a doctorate at the University of Florida.

Swale took a different route for his postdoctoral studies and joined the Department of Anesthesiology at Vanderbilt Medical Center, where he studied pharmacology. There he worked with Jerod Denton and Peter Piermarini to design an insecticide that prevents mosquitoes from digesting blood meals by developing diuretic molecules used to treat high blood pressure in humans.

“We found a way to actually shut down mosquito kidneys, which prevents them from being able to handle the salts in the blood, and in turn the blood meal becomes toxic,” he said.

Swale moved to LSU in 2015. He respected the AgCenter’s reputation for research and thought that his own research could grow through alliances with the LSU Veterinary School and the Department of Biological Sciences. But he also knew about Louisiana's plentiful outdoors opportunities.

“Y’all have some darn good fishing here,” he said, laughing. “I think I fit in well with the culture here since I will be on the water or in the woods as much as I possibly can.”

When he’s not in the woods or on the water, Swale loves to compete in triathlons, finishing two grueling Ironman triathlons in Florida and Austria. For now, competing is not his top priority. In August 2016, Swale and his wife, Sarah, welcomed their first child.

Swale’s work at the AgCenter provides him an opportunity to meet his top goal — advance society and aid in the quest for enhancing human health and agricultural productivity.

“If we can do something to get rid of a devastating disease, whether in plants or humans, it would be pretty cool,” Swale said.

Kyle Peveto is the publication editor with LSU AgCenter Communications and assistant editor of Louisiana Agriculture.

(This article appeared in the fall 2017 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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LSU AgCenter entomologist Daniel Swale stands in front of a mini-habitat set up in Mbita, Kenya. Swale received a Grand Challenges grant to study malaria-transmitting mosquitoes in Kenya. Photo provided by Daniel Swale

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Outside of the lab, LSU AgCenter entomologist Daniel Swale has a passion for the outdoors. Living in Louisiana has provided him with many opportunities for kayaking and fishing. Photo provided by Daniel Swale

1/24/2018 7:30:34 PM
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