Using nanotechnology to protect grain exports

Feb 05, 2014 by Robyn Mills

(Phys.org) —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 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 .

"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.

Their research is being presented at this week's ICONN2014-ACMM23 conference for nanoscience and microscopy being hosted by the University of Adelaide at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

"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 ," says Professor Losic.

"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."

Explore further: Turning plastic bags into high-tech materials

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New clue to combating fumigant resistance in insects

Nov 09, 2012

(Phys.org)—New research, published today in prestigious journal Science, has identified the gene responsible for an insect's resistance to a major fumigant used by Australia's grain industry for insect free grain.

Recommended for you

Engineered proteins stick like glue—even in water

3 hours ago

Shellfish such as mussels and barnacles secrete very sticky proteins that help them cling to rocks or ship hulls, even underwater. Inspired by these natural adhesives, a team of MIT engineers has designed new materials that ...

Smallest possible diamonds form ultra-thin nanothreads

3 hours ago

For the first time, scientists have discovered how to produce ultra-thin "diamond nanothreads" that promise extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than that of today's strongest ...

A nanosized hydrogen generator

Sep 20, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have created a small scale "hydrogen generator" that uses light and a two-dimensional graphene platform to boost ...

User comments : 0