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Safer, more natural insect control result of research – Audio

Heidi-Goodrich Blair, Professor
Department of Bacteriology
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
hgblair@bact.wisc.edu (608) 265-4537

3:00 – Total Time
0:15 – The research explained
0:41 – Progress is exciting
1:11 – How the research is done
1:40 – Safer targeted insect control
2:14 – How farmers may use
2:51 – Lead out

Sevie Kenyon: We’re visiting today with Heidi Goodrich-Blair Department of Bacteriology University of Wisconsin – Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.

Heidi Goodrich-Blair: Heidi, tell us a little bit about the research you’re working on.

Heidi Goodrich-Blair: Well we work on basically a plague of insects. This is a bacterium that is a very, very effective killer of insects. In nature it’s carried into insect hosts using a nematode but once it’s there it produces all sorts of molecules that make insects sick and eventually kill them. So we’re trying to figure out what compounds these bacteria use to make that happen.

Sevie Kenyon: Heidi can you give us an idea of what kind of progress you’ve made?

Heidi Goodrich-Blair: I think we’re making some exciting progress. First of all, we’ve been able to identify several compounds that are produced, secreted by these bacteria that have oral toxicity against these insects. And then we’ve also identified a compound that we think suppresses the insects’ immune response. So that’s basically weakening them and making them more susceptible to other pathogens that might be available in their environment.

Sevie Kenyon: Could you describe how you actually work with these compounds?

Heidi Goodrich-Blair: We grow these bacteria basically in chicken soup and they make lots and lots and lots of themselves and as part of that process, pump out molecules so then we can just take the broth, get rid of all of the bacterial cells and then ask what compounds are in there by adding it to some insect food. So we just add the bacterial supermix to the food and see if the insects die, and often they do.

Sevie Kenyon: Can you perhaps give us an idea of how many of these compounds there may be?

Heidi Goodrich-Blair: I think there is going to be a lot of diversity. So one of the things that we’re doing is to look across a lot of these different types of bacteria to see if they’re making special molecules that might be specific for certain kinds of insects like the Western corn rootworm and would not kill things that we like, like butterflies or bees. We want to make sure that whatever compounds we’re potentially applying in fields in the future will be targeted towards the insect that we want to control.

Sevie Kenyon: What might this look like in an application, in an agricultural environment?

Heidi Goodrich-Blair: Well I could see a couple of different ways. One is that we would be able to synthesize this molecule using bacteria or perhaps using some kind of chemical synthesis mechanism once we identify what the compound is and we would be able to spread that directly on fields that would deter insects from feeding or would kill those insects that are trying to feed on plants. Alternatively, you could consider engineering the plants or other types of bacteria to be able to express these compounds themselves.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Heidi Goodrich-Blair Department of Bacteriology University of Wisconsin – Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.