SC State research to improve pesticide practices of state’s food industry

Friday, September 04, 2009

MahroofResults from a new pest management study at SC State University will help ensure the state’s food producers and suppliers meet consumers’ demand for high quality, competitively priced food and feed commodities, while reducing the use of pesticides and their harmful effects to humans and the environment.

The University’s 1890 Research & Extension Program awarded a $350,000 grant to SC State’s Dr. Rizana Mahroof, assistant professor in biological sciences, who will lead the collaborative research project.

“There is a global consensus that insecticides are dangerous to humans, attributing to many serious illnesses, and the use of the chemicals is detrimental to the environment,” said Mahroof. “Researchers, professionals in the food and pest management industries and environmentalists are now looking for alternative environmental and human friendly methods that either manage or control pests.”

Managing the pest problem is also important as the contamination and damage caused by insects in food products -- most especially stored products such as wheat, corn, rice, other cereal grains, grain-based products, spices and nuts -- cause billions of dollars in yearly losses to the food industry, and also reduce the food supply available for human consumption, noted Mahroof.
To develop safer and more effective pest management practices, the entomologist will examine and determine the critical sources of infestation and the habitats and breeding sites outside the stored product environment. She will also test the effectiveness of innovative pest management strategies such as utilizing insect produced pheromones to disrupt communication among insects that ultimately leads to the suppression of the population.
The research project includes an outreach or extension component that will train SC State undergraduate and graduate students to educate farmers, industry representatives and pest control operators on implementing the best practices of reduced-risks in pest management for stored products.

Mahroof will also work with entomologists from two research universities, Dr. Eric Benson, Clemson University (Clemson, SC) and Dr. Thomas Phillips, Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS), who will conduct on-the-field trainings to constituents in their regions.

In addition, SC State will partner with three companies that specialize in bio-rationale means of pest control, through pheromones and other least toxic measures that will not harm non-target organisms, i.e., humans and pets. The companies are Insects Limited, Incorporated (Westfield, Ind.), Trécé Incorporated (Adiar, Okla.) and Contech (British Columbia, Canada).

SC State officials say the study will help revitalize the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences’ focus in entomology and generate interest among SC State students in the study of insects.
“We are excited that Dr. Rizana Maroof, a new assistant professor in the biology department, received funding to conduct cutting-edge research in entomology. The study will result in a new innovative technique to control insects in stored products. Our majors will be exposed to new technologies that impact pest management,” said Dr. Judith Salley, Chair of the Department of Biological Science at SC State.

“In addition, Dr. Maroof's expertise in entomology will allow the department to revitalize the entomology course, a course that has not been offered for many years, and provide extensive collaborative research opportunities and training for students not only with Clemson and Kansas State but with regional and national USDA agencies,” she continued.

For more information about the reduced-risk pest management study, contact Dr. Rizana Mahroof at (803) 536-8174 or rmahroof@scsu.edu.