Meet our Scientists
Larry Sheets: Knowing the Risks
When Larry Sheets chose his senior research project in high school, he began his lifelong focus on toxicology. Today, Dr. Sheets enjoys collaborating with scientists in academia and the agricultural industry to reach a common goal: ensuring the safety of crop protection products.
A wonderful aspect about toxicology and science is that it allows people to come together and talk about scientific facts in a non-confrontational way. We all work toward a common goal.
I was interested in toxicology before I understood that the field existed. My career in science basically started in high school. When I was a seventeen-year-old high school senior, I came up with and designed a research project looking at the effects of birth control pills on the reproductive system of mice. An ambitious project, to say the least, but I learned a lot. Later, for my PhD thesis, I entered the highly-specialized area of neurotoxicology, which involves the examination of a chemical’s effects on the nervous system.
In toxicology, we focus on two questions. We ask if a chemical causes harm at any exposure level and what the exposure might be in real life. We must consider all kinds of exposure: the residue on food from crop protection products, the chemicals that might cling to our shoes or clothing after they’ve been used in the yard, and the exposure from contact with the floor after applications of pest control products. Because exposure can’t be exactly predicted, we establish a very wide margin of safety for the use of our products. It’s a basic principle of toxicology: it is the dose that matters most. That’s also true for crop protection products.
Specializing in Safety
One of my specialties has been developmental neurotoxicity, which focuses on the effects of chemicals on the developing brain. Brain cells in a fetus are growing and moving into position, and forming new connections. We have to make sure that the exposure to chemicals doesn’t disrupt these processes.
To work in this field, collaboration is required. A wonderful aspect of toxicology and science in general is that it allows people to come together and talk about scientific facts in a non-confrontational way. For a recent comprehensive review article about the developmental neurotoxicity of neonicotinoid insecticides, we gathered data from numerous sources in industry and academia. We scientists gladly pool our resources to ensure the safety of crop protection products.
Supporting Farming, Enjoying Nature
I’m a big believer in advancing modern agriculture. I grew up on a dairy farm with 300 head of cattle. At the time, it was a state-of-the-art operation with the latest milking equipment. I had to do chores every morning before going to school, and we never took any vacations. These early experiences made me understand that it’s important to make life easier for farmers. It means a lot to me that I’m contributing to this cause by reliably evaluating crop protection products for their safety.
In my free time, I still like to be close to the land. We live in a suburban community near Research Triangle Park. I enjoy barbecuing, which is basically cooking outside. I take care of our garden, including a pond, palm trees and banana plants. And because our property backs up to a protected watershed, we have an amazing abundance of wildlife I like to watch foxes, raccoons, ducks, woodpeckers and owls. Unlike cows, these animals don’t need constant care. They are there for pure enjoyment.
CV Larry Sheets
1955 Born in Nevada, Missouri, USA
1977 Bachelor of Science, Biology/Chemistry, Missouri State University
1979 Master of Science, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Missouri State University
1984 Ph.D. in Toxicology (honors), The University of Kansas Medical Center
1984 – 1987 Postdoctoral Fellow, US Environmental Protection Agency
1988 – 2001 Toxicology Specialist with promotions to Principal Research Scientist, Bayer CropScience, Stilwell, Kansas, USA
2001 – 2005 Research Fellow, Neurotoxicology, Bayer CropScience, Stilwell, Kansas, USA
2005 – 2007 Director, Neurotoxicology and Rodent Studies, Bayer CropScience, Stilwell, Kansas, USA
2007 – 2009 Head, Experimental Toxicology Laboratory, Bayer CropScience, Stilwell, Kansas, USA
2011 Diplomate, American Board of Toxicology
2009 – current Research Fellow, Regulatory Toxicology/Human Safety, Bayer CropScience; Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA