During my dissertation research, I have focused on developing a volatile chemical treatment to reduce potato plant insect damage. The most devastating herbivore of
potatoes and others in this family is the Colorado potato beetle, which causes wide-spread damage across North America, Europe and Asia. The critical need to develop new treatments for Colorado potato beetle is amplified by the fact that they are rapidly developing resistance to conventional pesticides.
With a fascination for applied chemical ecology and product development, my primary goal during my PhD was to develop a volatile chemical treatment that was effective, certified for organic agriculture, easy to use and affordable. The potential for a new treatment for this crop pest was supported by previous research, showing that the beetles consume less plant material when exposed to a common predator, however the mechanisms behind this effect were not clear. After numerous lab and large-scale field trials, a scent gland of the male predators was found to be a primary driver of the beetle behavior. A synthetic version of the gland was tested, and after documenting a more consistent response than the live predator treatment, a pheromone release device was developed and tested in a farm setting.
In 2019, I initiated the USDA National Organic Program compliance process to get the pheromone blend certified for use in organic agriculture. In 2020 the synthetic pheromone blend was approved and ready for farm deployment.