Scientists developing nanoparticle technology to fight insects

Bruce Schultz, Gould, Frances I., Blanchard, Tobie M.  |  9/12/2018 8:10:51 PM

Carlos Astete LSU AgCenter biological engineerCopy.jpg thumbnail

Carlos Astete, LSU AgCenter biological engineer, prepares a batch of nanoparticles to be used to carry insecticides to control soybean loopers. Astete makes the nanoparticles from a corn protein. Photo by Bruce Schultz

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Sara Navarro, LSU AgCenter biologist, with soybean plants grown in the lab that will be used to test the effectiveness of nanoparticles coated with insecticides. Photo by Bruce Schultz

Cristina Sabliov, LSU AgCenter biological engineer, is working with other scientists on a project using nanoparticles carrying insecticides to control insects.

Nanoparticles in the shape of tiny spheres are created by Carlos Astete, LSU AgCenter biological engineer, from a corn protein, zein. They are designed with a positive charge so they will attach themselves to plant tissue.

These minuscule particles are only 100 nanometers in diameter. For comparison, a human hair is 50,000 nanometers wide.

While the project is aimed at soybean loopers, it’s possible that the nanoparticles could be used against other pests, or as delivery vehicles for fungicides and fertilizers, Sabliov said.

The scientists are studying whether nanoparticles improve insecticide efficacy while also attempting to determine what effects the nanoparticles have on plants and where the nanoparticles travel in the plant system.

“We want to make sure our particles stick to the plant and kill the loopers, but we don’t want the particles to be detrimental to the plant,” Sabliov said.

The plants are grown by LSU AgCenter biologist Sara Navarro. The nanoparticles can be introduced to the plants either hydroponically or with a foliar application.

Jeff Davis, LSU AgCenter entomologist, said the insecticide methoxyfenozide, which is sold under the trade name Intrepid, was used successfully with nanoparticles, and loopers were killed. But the loopers also were controlled with applications of nanoparticles that were not coated with the insecticide.

Loopers that were not killed showed weight loss, Davis said.

But Davis said more work is needed to determine why the untreated nanoparticles controlled the insect.

“We still want to know the why and how,” he said.

Sabliov said the board’s willingness to fund the project reflects a forward-thinking vision. She said several chemical companies have expressed interest in the concept, but it will take years of work to develop a project.

“This is not something you will see on the market next year,” she said.

Bruce Schultz

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