Found an odd bug in your closet? Rhododendrons inexplicably wilting? Need a toenail analyzed? There’s a lab for that.
Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is home to several diagnostic centers that analyze scientific samples and those sent in by citizens.
For $25, anyone can send their mystery bugs to Jason Dombroskie, director of the Insect Diagnostic Lab. Sometimes he can make an identification from a digital photo; others require a full-on dissection.
Homeowners, farmers and pest control companies are common customers among Dombroskie’s average of five insect identifications per week. In one case, Dombroskie’s analysis of plaster beetles from a woman’s closet led to identifying not only the insect, but a mold problem. In another, he’s helping find the source of insects squished in plastics manufactured by a company in Norway.
This summer, Dombroskie will work with New York state to monitor for various potential problem pests, including the light brown apple moth -- a "huge pest" in California that is notoriously difficult to identify that is also the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation.
At the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, specialists analyze about 600 plant samples a year for researchers, extension associates, homeowners, arborists and golf course managers.
The Forest Service and New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets are big customers, and their samples sometimes drastically increase the clinic’s workload, as when the plum pox virus first made an appearance in the region.
"The year we found it for the first time in New York state, we went from 15,000 to 65,000 samples in a few weeks," said clinic director Karen Snover-Clift. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Cornell’s diagnostic clinic was also tapped to become a regional center in the federal government’s efforts to protect the nation’s food supply. Since 2002, whenever a National Plant Diagnostic Network member laboratory diagnoses a plant pathogen or pest, they send their identification to a national repository.