17-yr-old wins top awards for developing bio-insecticide

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By Our Special Correspondent

New Delhi, December 15: A 17-year-old intern won top awards for developing bio-pesticides from the leaves of ‘Ramphal (bullock’s heart, scientifically known as Annona reticulate). He has also been awarded by the Central government for his innovative solutions, which costs just one per cent of the chemical pestiucide against pests at a time when the Centre is laying emphasis on less chemical cultivation in the country.

Sarvesh Prabhu, a research intern at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), represented India at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Atlanta, USA and won the third prize and $1000 in the biochemistry category for developing a cost-effective bio-insecticide. The Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, also awarded him the first prize and ₹100,000 as part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Innovation Award for School Children.

The high school student from FIITJEE Junior College, Hyderabad, conducted research experiments at the entomology unit at ICRISAT headquarters in India early this year, and the outcome of his research was presented at the world’s largest pre-college science fair in Atlanta, USA.

The ICRISAT’s Deputy Director General-Research Dr Arvind Kumar said, “The Institute encourages participation of youth in agricultural research and has nurtured over 7000 interns and research scholars since its establishment by offering them access to world-class facilities and multidisciplinary mentoring.”

The project titled, ‘A novel study of bio-insecticidal properties of Annona reticulata’ showcased the bio-insecticidal properties of the leaves of the plant. Traditionally, the extracts of various parts of this plant have been used to treat diseases like dysentery and pediculosis. The study revealed that extracts from its leaves could be effective against three disastrous pests, with the mortality rate ranging from 78-88 per cent.

“ICRISAT always looks forward to mentoring young researchers like Sarvesh Prabhu and supporting them in their endeavors for building a sustainable food system for the future generation,” said Dr Sean Mayes, Research Program Director, Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT.

Pod borer (Helicoverpa armigera) alone may cause losses of more than $300 million annually. Green peach aphid (Myzus persicae) causes 38-42 per cent yield loss in various crops and fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) causes 21-53 per cent losses in the absence of pest management. These are the most common pests found in legumes and cereal crops. “We maintain five insect cultures throughout the year, making it a one-of-its-kind research facility in India and supporting/providing insect cultures to many Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutes, state agricultural universities, and private companies for their research activities on toxicology and host plant resistance,” said Dr Jagdish Jaba, Scientist-Entomology, Crop Protection and Seed Health, ICRISAT.

The chemical composition of bullock’s heart plant is found to act as a defense mechanism against insect pests. Dr Rajan Sharma, Cluster Leader, Crop Protection & Seed Health, ICRISAT said, “The mortality rate of pests between 78-88 per cent in lab conditions is a very encouraging result. In the next stage, the bio-pesticide must be tested in greenhouse and field conditions for its efficacy against different insect pests.”

The cost of cultivation increases by $24-50 per acre with use of chemical insecticides while destroying beneficial insects and contaminating soil and food produce. On the other hand, bio-insecticides cost between $9-12 per acre of cropping land and produce eco-friendly and healthy produce. Manufacturing insecticide from the leaves of bullock’s heart costs $0.33 per liter. This makes it an affordable pesticide for smallholder farmers and offers an additional source of income through sale of fruits for human consumption and the leaves for bio-pesticide extracts.

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