Researchers use oxygenated phosphine fumigation to control insect pests

Jul 12, 2012 By Sharon Durham
Researchers use oxygenated phosphine fumigation to control insect pests
ARS scientists have found that an oxygen-phosphine combination could be an environmentally friendly alternative to methyl bromide to control a number of insects pests like the western flower thrip on harvested fruits and vegetables. Photo courtesy of P.M.J. Ramakers, Applied Plant Research,

A fumigant called phosphine is more effective at controlling insects when it's combined with oxygen, according to findings by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist. The oxygen-phosphine combination could be an environmentally friendly alternative to methyl bromide for combating pests on harvested fruits and vegetables.

Entomologist Yong-Biao Liu with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Salinas, Calif., found that oxygenated phosphine fumigation effectively controlled several during laboratory studies. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.

In the ARS Crop Improvement and Protection Research Unit at Salinas, Liu tested phosphine fumigation under high levels of oxygen against four pests: western flower thrips adults and larvae, leafminer pupae, grape mealybug eggs, and Indianmeal moth eggs and pupae. The four species represent insect types and life stages for which quarantine treatments are needed.

In 5-hour fumigations with 1,000 parts per million of phosphine at 41 degrees Fahrenheit, control of western flower thrips on lettuce increased from 80 percent to 98 percent when oxygen was increased from 21 percent to 40 percent. When the was increased to 80 percent, 99 percent of the western flower thrips were killed.

Western flower thrips are a common pest of in the United States and are often found on fresh products exported to Taiwan, where it is a quarantined pest. Currently, exported to Taiwan are fumigated with to control western flower thrips, but use of methyl bromide is being phased out due to environmental concerns.

Liu used varying concentrations of oxygen at 41 degrees F and 50 degrees F and found that oxygenated phosphine fumigation was also effective in controlling leafminer pupae, grape mealybug eggs, and Indianmeal and pupae.

Phosphine has been used for more than 80 years as a fumigant to control pests in stored products. It acts slowly against insects. Many insects, especially at egg and pupal stages, are very tolerant of phosphine, and it may take more than 10 days of fumigation treatment to control them. The new treatment would help speed up this process and control insects more quickly.

Read more about this research in the July 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Explore further: A European bear's point of view, finally on film

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Controlling insects in stored grain

Aug 25, 2010

( -- Aeration -- blowing ambient air through grain storage bins -- has been used for decades to maintain the quality of grain by keeping it cool, as well as to manage stored insect pests. But few ...

Caution urged in storing methyl bromide-treated produce

Aug 01, 2011

Operators of facilities that store or process crops treated with methyl bromide should take extra precautions to protect their workers from postharvest exposure to the fumigant, advise experts at UC Davis, the California ...

Barcoding insects as a way to track and control them

May 02, 2012

Barcodes may bring to mind the sales tags and scanners found in supermarkets and other stores. But U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are using "DNA barcodes" to monitor insects that damage crops ...

Alternatives eyed for methyl bromide

Mar 16, 2011

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists trying to help Florida growers find a replacement for methyl bromide are studying an alternative soil treatment that uses molasses as one of its ingredients.

Recommended for you

Sharks contain more pollutants than polar bears

23 hours ago

The polar bear is known for having alarmingly high concentrations of PCB and other pollutants. But researchers have discovered that Greenland sharks store even more of these contaminants in their bodies.

Moth study suggests hidden climate change impacts

Apr 15, 2014

A 32-year study of subarctic forest moths in Finnish Lapland suggests that scientists may be underestimating the impacts of climate change on animals and plants because much of the harm is hidden from view.

User comments : 0

More news stories

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

First direct observations of excitons in motion achieved

A quasiparticle called an exciton—responsible for the transfer of energy within devices such as solar cells, LEDs, and semiconductor circuits—has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

( —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...