Three UGA inventors recognized for helping to create a ‘Better World’

March 14, 2012

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Athens, Ga. - Boosters for pesticides and antibiotics, a high-efficiency nutcracker and an electricity-free milk cooler-all invented by University of Georgia faculty-were recognized by the Association of University Technology Managers in their most recent "Better World Report."

For the 2011 report, AUTM was charged with selecting technologies that help the world in the face of adversity, and just 23 from the thousands of innovations from around the globe were selected. Five were from UGA.

"Our researchers deserve acknowledgement for their relentless efforts in helping people across the world to overcome adversity," said Sohail Malik, director of the UGA Technology Commercialization Office. "It is certainly an honor for UGA to be recognized for its research contributions through this prestigious publication, and to have three inventors featured is triply exciting."

Bt Booster

Controlling insects on agricultural crops is a little easier thanks to a new technology from Michael Adang, a professor of entomology in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Adang, along with InsectiGen, Inc., developed Bt Booster, a product that enhances the effectiveness of naturally occurring pesticides.

Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis, is a bacterium found in soil. Bt produces proteins that kill specific insects that carry diseases and feed on plants. While Bt has been used as a biopesticide since the 1930s, it has been genetically incorporated into corn and cotton plants recently. Adang and his colleagues found a way to make Bt work even better.

"Bt Booster is a very small part of a protein and, when it's added to Bt, makes the Bt protein more active, so it kills insects better," Adang said. "The goal of Bt Booster is to make insect control more effective with less Bt."

Bt Booster can be sprayed with Bt onto plants or engineered into plants with Bt protein, enhancing its bug-killing abilities. Bt only targets pest insects, such as worms or grubs, so it's non-toxic to farm animals, honeybees and humans. Aside from its environmental advantages, Bt Booster helps farmers save crops and money.

"Industry is moving to produce safer and more effective pesticides, and Bt Booster helps that technology," Adang said.

Cold milk and cracked nuts

Keeping milk cold and safe to drink is challenging in areas that lack electricity. William Kisaalita, a CAES professor of biological and agricultural engineering, along with his students engineered a milk cooler and a nutcracker meant to improve the output-and the income-of low-wage workers.

Kisaalita's milk cooler is designed to help dairy farmers, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, who lack access to refrigeration. Using this product, farmers are able to cool milk produced in the evening and sell it in the market the next day.

"The unique thing about it is it doesn't use electricity. It uses a principle of evaporative cooling," Kisaalita said.

In the cooler, a jug of milk is surrounded by water. The cooler is de-pressurized with a vacuum pump. A disk containing the absorbent material zeolite captures evaporating water under vacuum, causing the temperature inside the cooler to drop.

"You know how you feel if you jump into a swimming pool and you come out on a windy day and when you stand outside and you have water on your skin, how you feel cold? That's the simplest way of putting it," Kisaalita said.

Kisaalita was also recognized for the invention of a nutcracker designed to crack the hard shells of Argan nuts, which yield expensive oil for cosmetic products. Currently, Argan nuts are cracked between two stones, mainly by women working in southwestern Morocco.

"You can imagine the slow speed of productivity and also the injuries that come with using the stones to crack the nuts," Kisaalita said, "so we put this together to be able to speed up the production by about three times."

Several nuts at a time can be fed into the manual nutcracker, which is designed to have increased leverage that minimizes the force the worker must use to crack the nut.

"If these products can be manufactured locally, you're now building an industry. It has a spillover effect," Kisaalita said.

Treatment for burns

Branson Ritchie, Distinguished Research Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, has two inventions that improve human health by providing better antimicrobial control for wounds. Using enhanced silver, Ritchie and his colleagues at UGA and Molecular Therapeutics, LLC, developed wound cleaning and treatment products Silvaklenz and Silvion that enhance the potency of antimicrobials-even against drug-resistant pathogens.

"We were working with a burn center in Augusta. The founder of that burn center, Dr. Still, was frustrated that he was saving people with very severe burns and then they were dying with drug-resistant bacteria," Ritchie said.

The "potentiated" silver in Silaklenz and Silvion punches holes in the membranes of bacteria or fungi, allowing medicine inside.

"You can think about it as knocking holes in the hull of a boat. You can't keep the water out; you can't pump it out, so the boat sinks. And in this case, the microbe dies," Ritchie said.

In his lab, Ritchie and Professor Emeritus R.E. Wooley have shown that even lethal pathogens like methicillin resistant staphylococcus aurea, or MRSA for short, are no match for Silvaklenz and Silvion. Added to tiny concentrations of antibiotic, the products stop most microbial infections in a way that antimicrobials alone cannot.

"Because antimicrobials are natural compounds, all the other bacteria and fungi in the environment have seen those compounds before and over time developed ways to defend themselves against those chemical weapons. And since this is a non-natural way to defeat them, it makes them developing resistance to the potentiated antimicrobials much more complicated," Ritchie said.

The 2011 Better World Report is available at: www.betterworldproject.org/documents/AUTM11BWR_FNL.pdf.

For more information on Bt Booster, see www.insectigen.com. For more information on Silvaklenz, and Silvion, see http://moleculartpharma.com/Site/Home.html.

For a video of the project, see www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJUPRM8oKLM&list=UUmNT8A6kDI_-Xxjlhcm9VRg&index=1&feature=plcp.

 

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