Professor Richard David Newcomb

Research | Current

My interests are in the use of molecular approaches to understanding the evolution of chemical sensing. Animals possess a large family of odorant receptors that they use to detect a multitude of odours. By understanding the mechanisms and evolution of this biological chemical sensing system, we aim to develop solutions for the food, insect pest control and biosensing industries. We are also interested in using molecular techniques to address issues of the ecology and evolution of New Zealand’s unique biota.


Applications to conduct Honours, Masters and PhDs in the group are welcome.



Insect chemosensory reception


Insects have an incredibly sensitive and, for some compounds, a highly selective sense of smell. The recent sequencing of many insect genomes has revealed large families of chemosensory receptors, while biochemical and functional assays in surrogate cell systems have revealed that, distinct from other animal groups, insect chemosensory receptors function as ion channels.

We are developing technologies to enable the exploitation of these receptors in a biosensing device or cybernose. Further application of our knowledge of insect chemosensory receptors involves the development of new insect control and behaviour-modifying compounds through screening candidates in cell assays against recombinant protein targets.



Molecular evolution

We are interested in the molecular bases of biological innovation and speciation, predominantly using insects as models. Of particular focus is the conundrum of how mating systems diverge, when this requires both male and female parts of the mating system to co-evolve. For this question we use a group of New Zealand endemic leafroller moths. We also contribute to developing molecular methods for estimating and comparing levels of biodiversity in different ecosystems - see


Postgraduate supervision

Applications to conduct Honours, Masters and PhDs within the lab are welcome.


2015       Assessor MBIE, Smart Ideas grant applications

2015       Invited speaker, International Chemical Ecology Conference, Stockholm, Sweden

2014       Programme Committee, International Symposium of Taste and Olfaction, Japan, 2016

2014       Programme Committee, International Congress of Entomology, USA, 2016

2014       Performance Based Research Funding, Sector Reference Group, Tertiary Education Commission

2014       Plant & Food Research Chairman’s Award

2013       Invited speaker, International Chemical Ecology Conference, Melbourne, Australia

2013       Convener, Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting, Queenstown, NZ

2012       Invited Speaker, Pheromone Days, Stockeboda Gard, Garsnas, Sweden

2012       Faculty of 1000 recommendation for Hamiaux et al. (2012)

2012       Solander Travel Award

2012       Trimble Agricultural Research Fellowship

2011       Invited speaker, Genetics Society of Australasia Annual Meeting, Melbourne, Australia

2010       Invited speaker, Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting, Queenstown, NZ

2010       Top Cited Article Award 2008-2010 Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

2009       Marsden Grant recipient (Principal Investigator)

2008       Invited member, Royal Society of NZ delegation to Taiwan on Nanobiotechnology

2008 -     Principal Investigator, Allan Wilson Centre for Research Excellence

2008 -     Associate Investigator, Maurice Wilkins Centre for Research Excellence

2008       Invited opening speaker, IMPRS Symposium, Max Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology

2007       Invited opening speaker and Session Chair, European Symposium of Insect Taste and Olfaction

2006       ISAT Travel Award

2006       Invited speaker, Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference

2006       Invited speaker and Session Chair, Congress of Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing

2006       Invited speaker, International Society of Chemical Ecology, Annual Meeting

2005       Invited speaker, Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting, Queenstown, NZ

2004       Invited member, MRST delegation of scientists to BIO2004

2004       McMaster Fellowship, CSIRO, Australia

2003       ISAT Travel Award

2003       Invited speaker, Symposium on Genomics of Molecular Adaptation, Lund, Sweden.

2002       Marsden Grant recipient (Principal Investigator)

1998       Marsden Grant recipient (Principal Investigator)

1998       Visiting Fellow, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

1998       Plenary speaker, International Meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution

1997       Marsden Grant recipient (Associate Investigator)

1997       New Zealand Science & Technology Post-Doctoral Fellowship

1996       Young Scientist Award, Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting (NZ)

1996       New Zealand Lottery Science Repatriation Fellowship

1993       Australian National University Postgraduate Study Award

1992       University of California Exchange Award

1991       Sir James Gunson Award for Research in Agriculture (NZ)


Chief Scientist
The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research
Private Bag 92169
Auckland, New Zealand

Principal Investigator
The Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution

Associate Investigator
The Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery

Richard is employed for 80% by The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited (Plant & Food Research) and 20% by The University of Auckland within the School of Biological Sciences.

Areas of expertise

Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour

Committees/Professional groups/Services

PBRF Sector Working Group

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Wu, C., Twort, V. G., Crowhurst, R. N., Newcomb, R. D., & Buckley, T. R. (2017). Assembling large genomes: analysis of the stick insect (Clitarchus hookeri) genome reveals a high repeat content and sex-biased genes associated with reproduction. BMC genomics, 18 (1)10.1186/s12864-017-4245-x
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Thomas Buckley
  • Yuvaraj, J. K., Corcoran, J. A., Andersson, M. N., Newcomb, R. D., Anderbrant, O., & Löfstedt C (2017). Characterization of Odorant Receptors from a Non-ditrysian Moth, Eriocrania semipurpurella Sheds Light on the Origin of Sex Pheromone Receptors in Lepidoptera. Molecular biology and evolution, 34 (11), 2733-2746. 10.1093/molbev/msx215
  • Dearden, P. K., Gemmell, N. J., Mercier, O. R., Lester, P. J., Scott, M. J., Newcomb, R. D., ... Penman, D. R. (2017). The potential for the use of gene drives for pest control in New Zealand: a perspective. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 1-20. 10.1080/03036758.2017.1385030
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Thomas Buckley
  • Wu, C., Jordan, M. D., Newcomb, R. D., Gemmell, N. J., Bank, S., Meusemann, K., ... Rutherford, K. (2017). Analysis of the genome of the New Zealand giant collembolan (Holacanthella duospinosa) sheds light on hexapod evolution. BMC genomics, 18 (1)10.1186/s12864-017-4197-1
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Thomas Buckley
  • Andersson, M. N., & Newcomb, R. D. (2017). Pest Control Compounds Targeting Insect Chemoreceptors: Another Silent Spring?. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 5.10.3389/fevo.2017.00005
  • Twort, V. G., Dennis, A. B., Park, D., Lomas, K. F., Newcomb, R. D., & Buckley, T. R. (2017). Positive selection and comparative molecular evolution of reproductive proteins from New Zealand tree weta (Orthoptera, Hemideina). PloS one, 12 (11)
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Thomas Buckley
  • Andersson, M. N., Corcoran, J. A., Zhang, D.-D., Hillbur, Y., Newcomb, R. D., & Lofstedt, C. (2016). A Sex Pheromone Receptor in the Hessian Fly Mayetiola destructor (Diptera, Cecidomyiidae). FRONTIERS IN CELLULAR NEUROSCIENCE, 1010.3339/fncel.2015.00212
  • Wu, C., Crowhurst, R. N., Dennis, A. B., Twort, V. G., Liu, S., Newcomb, R. D., ... Buckley, T. R. (2016). De Novo Transcriptome Analysis of the Common New Zealand Stick Insect Clitarchus hookeri (Phasmatodea) Reveals Genes Involved in Olfaction, Digestion and Sexual Reproduction. PloS one, 11 (6), 1-30. 10.1371/journal.pone.0157783
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Howard Ross, Thomas Buckley

Contact details

Alternative contact

The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research
Private Bag 92169 (mail)
120 Mt Albert Road, Mt Albert (courier) Auckland, New Zealand

phone: +64-9-9257127
fax: +64-9-9257001


Primary location

Level 2, Room 201
New Zealand

Web links