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June 18 STEM Café explores green alternatives to pesticides

June 11, 2014

insectsCould something as simple as aspirin be the key to controlling harmful insects? That’s the question NIU Biological Sciences Professor Jon Miller asked when he began his research on insect cellular immunity. His discoveries could eventually lead to safer, greener pest-control practices for agriculture.

Miller will be the guest speaker at the next STEM Café, “Infecticide: Using Cellular Immunity to Control Insect Pest Populations.” This free presentation and discussion will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 18th, at Eduardo’s Restaurant, 214 E. Lincoln Hwy, DeKalb.

Miller serves as acting director of NIU’s Center for Secondary Science and Mathematics Education and as director of the Teacher Licensure Program for biology. He is also a research scientist in cell biology with more than 20 years of experience in teaching biology, chemistry and human anatomy and physiology at the high school and university levels.

Jon Miller

Jon Miller

Miller has long been fascinated with insects and was interested in ways to control pest populations without negative effects to humans and other important insects such as honeybees. “Insects are a part of the ecosystem and play an important role,” Miller says. “We don’t want to completely eradicate insect pests in agricultural settings. Instead, we should try to keep their populations below economic thresholds so the farmer can earn a living and the environment is not negatively impacted.”

Miller says that if researchers spray fields with low doses of anti-inflammatories rather than using pesticides, they can disrupt the insect immune system. This causes insects in the sprayed area to lose their natural immunity to common microorganisms and bacteria found in the environment.

Unlike pesticides, which are also poisonous to humans, immune disruptors will have little to no effect on human health. “It just so happens that the immune disruptors are NSAID pharmaceuticals such as Advil, Aleve, aspirin and common drugs we take for a headache or fever. They are anti-inflammatory drugs,” Miller says. “Many of the disruptor agents are also treatments for arthritis.”

Miller plans to discuss insects, immunology and applications of his research. After his talk, he will participate in a question-and-answer session with the audience.

This event is part of NIU STEM Outreach’s series of monthly STEM Cafés, which are free and open to the public. Food and drinks are available for purchase from the host restaurant.

The STEM Café series is just one of the many engaging events STEM Outreach hosts to increase public awareness of the critical role that STEM fields play in our everyday lives. Learn more about STEM Cafés and other events online or contact Judith Dymond at [email protected] or (815) 753-4751.