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Plant Protection Today - PPQ Lab Develops Tech for Imported Commodities, Inspections, and Pest Management

PPQ Lab Develops Tech for Imported Commodities, Inspections, and Pest Management
January 26, 2022

(Cover Photo: Biological Scientist Cory Penca studies a new way to kill fruit fly larvae in fruit: submerging the fruit in water for prolonged periods.)

How Science and Technology Makes Trade Safer 

By April Dawson

USDA’s Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program continues its Science and Technology (S&T) laboratory article series by highlighting the Treatment and Inspection Methods Laboratory (TIML, formerly known as the Miami lab). The TIML focuses on imported commodities.

“Our team works diligently to identify and develop tools and technologies to improve commodity treatments and pest risk management in support of PPQ programs,” said Dr. Woody Bailey, TIML’s Director. “Our lab identifies and develops phytosanitary treatment technologies and schedules to mitigate pest risk. This is how we support pest exclusion and facilitate safe trade. The scope of the lab’s approach brings biological sciences, chemistry, and analysis to bear.”

“The TIML develops phytosanitary treatments as we seek methyl bromide alternatives, including ‘green technologies’ and pest mitigation measures,” said S&T Associate Deputy Administrator Wendy Jin. “Methyl bromide is an existing staple in PPQ’s treatment toolbox, but its use is being phased out under the Montreal Protocol.” The lab’s efforts in this area include investigating replacements for methyl bromide fumigation in the lab’s purpose-designed fumigation research facility and using “green” technologies, including:

  • Developing vacuum steam technology as a safe and environmentally friendly phytosanitary treatment for fruit. The lab has found that most tropical and some non-tropical fruits can tolerate the treatment temperature and pressure combinations that are lethal to fruit pests.
  • Evaluating existing cold storage exposure impacts on the mortality of the flat mite Brevipalpus yothersi.
  • Developing systems approaches, which use multiple mitigation measures, at least two of which act independently to mitigate pest risk. They function as a complement or alternative to traditional phytosanitary treatments.

Technician Luis Bradshaw tweaks the TIML’s small-scale fumigation apparatus prior to starting a research trial.

Biological control is another environmentally friendly pest management option, which uses a pest’s natural enemies such as parasitoids, predators, and pathogens. The lab delivered these recent achievements in this area:

  • Determined that two predatory mirids currently established in the United States effectively control the sweet potato whitefly and the threat of tomato leafminer in tomatoes. 
  • Developed a biological control strategy to help mitigate the impact of citrus leprosis (CiLV) in preparation for potential incursion of the virus into the United States. The lab identified effective predatory mites and biorational (environmentally friendly) pesticides that controlled the mite Brevipalpus yothersi  which spreads CiLV on citrus. 

The lab has also developed domestic and offshore pest surveys and mitigations, including:

  • An attract-and-kill strategy to aid the eradication of the giant African snail and horntail snail. 
  • A determination that the recent Florida giant African snail eradication program removed all reproductive snails, leading to a rapid decline and their eventual elimination from infested properties.

Technician Silvia Durand (left) and Entomologist Amy Roda use a novel technique to survey for Oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis) larvae in host fruit during a Florida eradication program.

The TIML develops and improves inspection technologies, which are vital to excluding exotic pests in trade. For example, TIML is working on 3D printing trays and X-ray inspection protocols for seed and plant inspection and facilitating image sharing for better coordination between plant inspection stations, where PPQ specialists ensure that imported plants and seeds do not contain pests and diseases of regulatory significance. 

Chemist Lisa Mosser, who recently retired, measuring the release rate of attractants in fruit fly trapping lures as a quality assurance measure supporting PPQ Fruit Fly Programs. The TIML also provides technical support for PPQ import programs by reviewing treatment research and critically assessing proposals for approving offshore facilities, equipment and new packaging intended to maintain fruit quality during pest treatments. This support promotes efficacious and consistent treatments internationally.

“In addition, the TIML assists by selecting treatments for imported shipments on hold due to identification of a quarantine pest, especially when the pest, commodity, or circumstances are unusual and require further scientific inquiry,” said Bailey.

The lab provides technical support to PPQ programs in the field of analytical chemistry and dosimetry, including:

  • Methods development and quantitative analysis in support of PPQ’s fruit fly programs.
  • Support for grasshopper, spotted lanternfly, Asian longhorn beetle, and Texas boll weevil programs through the development of analytical methods for measuring pesticide residues.
  • Dosimetry services to support sterile insect technique programs and research supporting irradiation as a phytosanitary treatment. Reliable dosimetry is essential to ensuring absorbed irradiation doses are consistently and accurately measured. 

You can learn even more about the TIML by visiting its web page.

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