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Scientists discuss improved biopesticides for locust control in West Africa


Sunscreen for microbes to be introduced

Two Virginia Tech scientists contributed by invitation to an international scientific meeting called by Abdoulaye Wade, president of Senegal, to identify strategies for the control of the ongoing locust outbreak in West Africa. Last year, locusts stripped fields of crops and trees of foliage across several countries, causing severe income and food supply loss.

Larry Vaughan, associate program director of the USAID-funded Integrated Pest Management Collaborative Research Support Program (IPM CRSP) and research associate in the Office of International Research, Education, and Development (OIRED), and Foster Agblevor, associate professor of biological systems engineering, traveled to Senegal to speak about their biopesticide research at the "International Scientific Seminar on Desert Locusts" held in Dakar in January.

Biopesticides are types of pesticides derived from natural materials such as microbes, principally viruses, bacteria, and fungi. "The biopesticide that is registered for use in West Africa derives from a fungus that is a specific pathogen of locusts and grasshoppers. It specifically targets those insects and does not affect non-target organisms," Vaughan said.

"The persistence of base biopesticides is low in the environment because of degradation from sunlight," Agblevor said. "We have developed coating technologies to improve on the environmental persistence of the biopesticide, specifically a lignin coating for the spores, which increases their resistance to ultraviolet radiation." Research at Virginia Tech demonstrated UV resistance 15 times greater for coated spores as compared to non-coated spores. "This technology is applicable to many other biopesticides and should make them more effective as well,." Agblevor said

Local officials are calling the infestation in West Africa the worst in 18 years. The pests invaded the region last summer, affecting millions of acres of farmland. The locusts are in recession now because they do not breed in the dry season, but when the annual spring rains begin, they are expected to return.

Participants at the seminar included ministers of agriculture from other West African nations, national plant protection directors and locust control personnel, military officers in charge of locust control campaigns, representatives from regional and international organizations, and locust scientists.

Vaughan spoke about the potential for operational use of biopesticides developed at Virginia Tech during the secondary invasion of locusts that is expected in 2005. Agblevor discussed long-term formulation research that could expand the circumstances under which locust biopesticides may be used.

Vaughan has been active in locust control since 1997, when he assumed coordination of the USAID-funded project at Virginia Tech, "Development of Biopesticides for Grasshopper and Locust Control in Sub-Saharan Africa," which wrapped up in June 2004. Agblevor participated in this project by developing means of protecting short-lived fungal spores from ultraviolet light, a key facet of biopesticide research.

OIRED at Virginia Tech manages two large global projects funded by USAID.

Susan Felker | EurekAlert!
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