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Does aspirin work as a nontoxic pesticide?

Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 10:34 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Could something as simple as aspirin be the key to controlling harmful insects? That’s the question Dr. Jon Miller, Northern Illinois University biological sciences professor, 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 Cafe, “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 18, at Eduardo’s Restaurant, 214 E. Lincoln Highway, DeKalb.

Miller is the acting director for the Center for Secondary Science and Mathematics Education and the Teacher Licensure Program director for biology at NIU. 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.

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 like honeybees.

“Insects are a part of the ecosystem and play an important role,” he said. “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 said 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," Miller said. "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.

STEM Cafes are free and open to the public. Food and drinks are available for purchase from the host restaurant. For more information, visit www.niu.edu/stem or contact Judith Dymond at jdymond@niu.edu or 815-753-4751.

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