A Feb. 5, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights a presentation about protecting grain from insects given at the ICONN2014-ACMM23 conference for nanoscience and microscopy held Feb. 3 -6, 2014 at the University of Adelaide (Australia). From the news item,
University of Adelaide researchers are using nanotechnology and the fossils of single-celled algae to develop a novel chemical-free and resistance-free way of protecting stored grain from insects.
The researchers are taking advantage of the unique properties of these single-celled algae, called diatoms. Diatoms have been called Nature’s nanofabrication factories because of their production of tiny (nanoscale) structures made from silica which have a range of properties of potential interest for nanotechnology.
“One area of our research is focussed on transforming this cheap diatom silica, readily available as a by-product of mining, into valuable nanomaterials for diverse applications – one of which is pest control,” says Professor Dusan Losic, ARC Future Fellow in the University’s School of Chemical Engineering.
The Feb. 5, 2014 University of Adelaide media release, which originated the news item, provides more insight into the research,
“There are two looming issues for the world-wide protection against insect pests of stored grain: firstly, the development of resistance by many species to conventional pest controls – insecticides and the fumigant phosphine – and, secondly, the increasing consumer demand for residue-free grain products and food,” Professor Losic says.
“In the case of Australia, we export grain worth about $8 billion each year – about 25 million tonnes – which could be under serious threat. We urgently need to find alternative methods for stored grain protection which are ecologically sound and resistance-free.”
The researchers are using a natural, non-toxic silica material based on the ‘diatomaceous earths’ formed by the fossilisation of diatoms. The material disrupts the insect’s protective cuticle, causing the insect to dehydrate.
“This is a natural and non-toxic material with a significant advantage being that, as only a physical mode of action is involved, the insects won’t develop resistance,” says Professor Losic. [emphasis mine]
“Equally important is that it is environmentally stable with high insecticidal activity for a long period of time. Therefore, stored products can be protected for longer periods of time without the need for frequent re-application.”
PhD student Sheena Chen is presenting her findings on the insecticidal activity of the material. PhD student John Hayles is also working on the project. The research is funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation. The researchers are in the final stages of optimising the formula of the material.
This work be may of interest to Canadian farmers especially since 2013 featured the largest wheat and canola harvests in Canadian history according to a Dec. 4, 2013 article by Terryn Shiells for AgCanada.com,
“There’s just no getting around it, this is the biggest crop of Canadian history and it’s basically a shocker all around,” said Mike Jubinville of ProFarmer Canada in Winnipeg. “I really can’t think of a crop, other than peas and lentils, that didn’t provide an upside that betters what trade expectations were.”
Because all of the crops are so huge, it won’t be possible to move the entire crop this year, Jubinville said.
“We’re going to argue all we want about rail car allocations, about slow deliverable opportunities, but there’s just no way that the Canadian commercial handling system can move this crop,” he said.
Because there just isn’t enough capacity to get everything moved this year, there will also likely be larger than anticipated carryover stocks of all crops.
I imagine these bumper crops will mean there are storage issues which brings this piece back to the Australians and their work on preserving stored grain by using diatoms and silica material. Perhaps Canadian farmers would like to test this “new natural and non-toxic material” once the formula has been optimized.