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University of Saskatchewan launches insect research facility

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Canada’s University of Saskatchewan (USask) has launched the University of Saskatchewan Insect Research Facility (USIRF), the first insect research facility with quarantine capabilities in a western Canadian university.

USIRF is specifically designed for research on beneficial insects and arthropod plant pests, including non-native insects and pathogens. The university stated the facility will boost Canadian agriculture, protect the environment, reduce risk to food security, and provide fundamental insight into insect ecology.

Located in the Agriculture Building on the USask Saskatoon campus, the 500-square-foot insect quarantine facility is designed to meet Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Plant Protection Containment Level-2A requirements, allowing researchers to study non-native insects and pathogens that pose a potential threat to western Canadian crops.

“Insects are an important part of agricultural ecosystems but some present huge economic and environmental risk,” said Dr. Sean Prager (PhD), USask entomologist and USIRF research lead. “The USIRF provides us a space to pre-emptively study how these pests would work in our environment and with Saskatchewan crops before they become an issue. This facility also allows us to involve students in this research, which means we can train students at the highest level of entomological research.”

The bio-secure insect-rearing and quarantine facility employs mechanical and operating safeguards to prevent accidental release and cross-contamination of harmful species. The USIRF contains climate-controlled chambers for sustaining insects and infested plants, and space for conducting experiments.

The USIRF supports collaborations between pest researchers and USask Crop Development Centre plant breeders. With the increased research capacity, USask researchers will be able to develop proactive methods of managing insects, resulting in new ways to predict pest outbreaks, decrease pesticide use, and develop new pest-resistant crop varieties.

Funding for the USIRF was provided by CDN$500,000 from the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) as part of its $32 million Capacity Initiative, $285,000 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, $70,000 from the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission, $70,000 from Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, $70,000 from the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, and $50,000 from USask.

Photo: Research technician Ningxing Zhou (left) and graduate student Grace Onu-Odey (right) transfer a pea aphid in the new University of Saskatchewan Insect Research Facility. (Credit: Kira Glasscock)

 Read the MARCH/APRIL 2023 issue of New AG International, free to view here.

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