SPRING TWP., Pa. — A first-year biotechnology major at Penn State Berks is receiving national recognition for her work studying a pest that originated in Berks County.

Erin Horack has been studying the spotted lanternfly, an invasive bug native to China that first appeared in the U.S. in Earl Township in 2014.

Horack said she wanted to know more about the bug and why it's so dangerous to the agriculture industry.

She used DNA sequencing to compare the spotted lanternfly found in the U.S. with those from Korea, Japan, and China. She found the Pennsylvania version is more closely related to the ones in Korea and China, a sign that the insect can adapt quickly.

She also studied which plants it likes to eat. She discovered plants with higher sucrose and lower glucose levels attract more spotted lanternflies.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture said the insect is a huge threat to grapevines, maples, black walnut, birch, and willow.

Horack's research earned top honors at the National FFA Agriscience Fair. She was also named a 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar.

Horack said she became interested in the spotted lanternfly when she was a freshman at Conrad Weiser High School.

She said her goal after graduation from Penn State is to work with DNA and genetics research in the pharmaceutical or agricultural industry.

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