Student Research Spotlight - Maria Mazin

Posted: June 19, 2015

This is the 9th of thirteen short news articles written by students, during the professional development class, about each other's research.

Shoo fly, don’t bother my mushrooms!
by Maridel Fredericksen

A fly the size of a grain of rice is keeping mushroom growers up at night. This fly, Lycoriella ingenua, doesn’t cause much harm on its own, but it carries with it a fungal disease that competes with the mushrooms and causes yield losses for growers. Pesticides used to control the insect are becoming less effective, plus government agencies and consumers alike are demanding alternative solutions.

Maria Mazin, a first-year Ph.D. student working with Penn State Professor of Entomology Ed Rajotte, is developing sustainable control measures by recruiting the fly’s natural enemies.

“If we can find something that can control these [fly] larvae biologically, it could reduce pesticide use in the mushroom farming process, which would have positive environmental impacts [as well as] health impacts on consumers,” says Mazin.

In her lab experiments, Mazin is testing the fly-killing abilities of several predators to identify the best candidates for biocontrol agents. The subjects of her experiments include mites and beetles that pick off the flies while they are still maggots, before they can fly from crop to crop spreading disease. Promising predators include those that not only have a large appetite for the pest maggots but also thrive in mushroom farming conditions.

After these lab trials, Mazin will use real-scale experiments to further test the candidate predators. Finally, she will take her control plan to the growers to see how it could be implemented on an actual mushroom farm.

“Anything you give them has to be economically viable in their eyes”, she says, adding that integrating biology into farming systems is the most challenging and rewarding part of the process for her.

“That’s the role of science…taking what you’re finding in your experiments and figuring out how to make it work,” she says.

Mazin has certainly chosen the right time and place to begin her research on mushroom pests. She points out that there is a growing consumer demand for pesticide-free foods, and legal restrictions on chemicals are getting tighter each year. And since Pennsylvania leads the US in mushroom production, Mazin is able to interact directly with many of the people who will benefit most from her research.
So the next time you enjoy mushrooms on pizza, in salads, or just sautéed in butter, remember Maria Mazin and the part she is playing to sustain this prized industry.