This is the tenth short news article written by students, during the professional development class of Spring 2024, about each other's research.

Student Spotlight: Neetu Khanal 

By Tyler Seutter

In the Northeastern part of Pennsylvania, there is a group of enthusiastic Vineyard growers, who are facing a devastating pest: the Grape Berry Moth (GBM). While this moth is so small you might mistake it for a gnat, the carnage it inflicts on these vineyards is catastrophic. Management practices such as pesticide sprays are ineffective as the larvae burrow into the immature fruit, shielding it from the effects of any insecticide. This is where Neetu Khanal’s research comes in: Fight nature with nature.

“The idea of utilizing biocontrol measures as an important part of Integrated Pest Management. This is the research area that I am very passionate about developing” remarks Neetu.

Her research focuses on parasitoid wasps that can penetrate the fruit to parasitize the larvae. When a parasitoid wasp senses the larvae in the fruit, it uses a needle-like structure on its abdomen called an ovipositor to lay its eggs in the larvae. The wasp larvae feed on the Grape Berry Moth larvae to develop. Neetu hypothesizes that the release of the GBM larval parasitoids at the beginning of the grape growing season will aid in the effective control of GBM. Biological control has been utilized to control other insect pests, but no research has been done to develop a protocol for this specific insect.

To find a parasitoid wasp to control GBM, Neetu will have to follow a multi-step process. First, she will figure out which local parasitoid wasps exist in the region, then collect infested grapes, rear them into adults, collect the wasps that emerge, and then try to establish these into sustainable colonies, run preliminary greenhouse experiments, and test the efficacy of GBM control in the field.

Neetu’s fieldwork indicates there are at least five different parasitoid wasps with varying behaviors that target GBM. Once sustainable colonies of the parasitoid wasps are developed, in the future growers dealing with Grape Berry Moth can order parasitoid wasps, deploy them in their fields, and control the pest population without the utilization of pesticides. Neetu’s desire to aid in the development of sustainable agriculture is one of her core values. There are many obstacles that farmers face and Neetu hopes that her research can give them a tool to protect their crops and their livelihood.

In the farming community, it takes a partnership of researchers with the farmers themselves to produce effective research. Neetu is passionate about aiding the vineyard growers in Pennsylvania and continuing this partnership. It is her passion for sustainable agriculture and on the ground working alongside the growers that makes her an inspirational researcher. She is laying the groundwork for methods to utilize biocontrol measures in a variety of agricultural ecosystems.

Neetu Khanal is a Ph.D. student in Professor Flor Acevedo’s laboratory in the Department of Entomology at Penn State University. Her project is supported by funding from the SARE Partnership Grant.