NC State Professor Saad Khan is investigating ways to create a platform for crop protection from fungi and insects using biodegradable matrices derived from trees and to tackle this problem at different fronts: leaves, seeds, and seedlings. Dr. Khan and his colleagues aim to use cellulosics derived from trees to create two types of matrices, paper, and nanocellulose based aqueous formulations to protect roots and leaves as a localized pesticide/fungicide delivery in a controlled manner minimizing environmental issues and enhancing efficacy.
Dr. Khan is working with Prof. Charles Opperman from the Department of Entomology & Plant Pathology at NC State, a leading expert in nematodes. Collaborators also include Dr. Danny Coyne and his group at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Kenya. In addition, Prof. Lokendra Pal from NC State’s Dept. of Forest Biomaterials is renowned for paper science and engineering and will prepare samples for field-testing in Africa and in North Carolina.
In 2018-19, the research focus was on sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Dr. Khan and his colleagues have developed a cost-effective approach to produce biodegradable matrices for seed/seed piece treatment for nematode infested soils in sub-Saharan Africa. The researchers are validating proof of concept and efficacy of the seed wrap for trials in yam and potato fields in Benin and Kenya respectively and have improved tuber storage as compared to farmers’ practice (no pesticide, no seed wrap), yam tubers produced from the seeds wrapped by the matrix stay healthy even after storing the tubers for longer periods.
This research has potential impacts in North Carolina where sweet potato and soybean crops are vulnerable as well. Dr. Khan reported that Kenan Institute support helped leverage a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has committed $1.2 million towards this research over three years.