A Need for Something New
Bala has always wanted to be a part of novel solutions for better pest control options in agriculture. Coming from a farming background, he knows firsthand how urgently growers need alternatives to synthetic, chemical pesticides and the negative environmental impact that comes with them. But crops’ success is often dependent upon effective pest control, and as the human population grows, the need for pesticides is growing, too. Bala’s research aims to develop safe biopesticide alternatives that are healthier for everyone—farmers, consumers, pollinators, and the environment—while maintaining or even improving crop yields for food security.
What Is a Biopesticide?
Biopesticides have the potential to be that solution. Rather than relying on chemicals to reduce insect damage, biopesticides exploit naturally occurring biological processes to enable plants defend themselves against pests. They are versatile and can be used either as plant-incorporated protectants or in a sprayable form, offering pest control alternatives that can minimize or even eliminate the need for synthetic chemical pesticides. Biopesticides also allow for specific pest insects to be targeted without harming pollinators. As an entomologist, that is a major motivator for Bala.
“Insects play a vital role in agriculture, pollinating 84% of crops and adding up to $577 billion USD in productivity,” he explains. “Despite their importance, some insects pose threats to crops. Billions of dollars are spent annually on crop-pest control, yet insect damage still results in the loss of nearly 20% of crops each year. Therefore, studying entomology for developing biopesticides that specifically target crop pests without harming pollinators like bees and butterflies is critical for sustainable crop-pest protection and food security.”
Making a Difference
Bala has been doing this work for over seven years now. During that time, he co-founded RNAissance Ag LLC, a St. Louis-based startup focused on developing sprayable RNAi based biopesticides. He is actively collaborating with industry partners to develop sprayable RNAi and protein-based biopesticides for creating sustainable crop pest protection and resistance management strategies. He is also a part of the Entomological Society of America’s People of Color group (ENTOPOC) and the St. Louis Mosaic Project, where he works to promote diversity and inclusivity in entomology research along with growth and prosperity in the St. Louis region.
“I am happy to contribute in this space,” Bala says. “Outside of my family, I am most proud of leading efforts to develop sustainable, environmentally friendly biopesticide products for farmers and enterprises for food security.”
Beyond the Bugs
When he isn’t working on his research, Bala enjoys traveling and hiking with his family. He is also an amateur food produce traceability enthusiast who is curious to learn about the journey of the produce he purchases, from the field to the grocery store.