>>Theresa Bierer: Loretta Mayer is a Northern
Arizona University researcher, her passion to understand heart disease in post-menopausal
women led to a discovery which could end up feeding millions of people worldwide. Mayer
cofounded SenesTech whose technology can sterilize the prolific rice rat of Southeast Asia.
>>Everett Hale: Because the rice rat consumes between 30 and 50% of the entire worlds food
supply of rice and every 10% increase in production that we can create by creating less damage
from the rice rat, we can feed 380 million more people. We really believe we are going
to be able to increase rice production by 10-30% which means we can literally be feeding
a billion more mouths in about two more years.>>Bierer: The technology created in Flagstaff,
AZ is called ContraPest. The oral bait causes sterility in the female rat and could replace
the current attempt at rat population control, poison.
>>Loretta Mayer: Poison that leeches into the environment and you know in Southeast
Asia folks eat rats. So there is direct human exposure, by using this technology they could
sterile the rats, reduce the population, increase production of rice. Just a 10% increase in
that rice production can feed upwards of 380 million people so that’s very rewarding for
us.>>Bierer: And this is a green technology unlike
the poisons which costs the governments of Southeast Asia 1.5 billion dollars each year.
Hale: And the poisons they’re using, it’s a hemorrhagic poison and it takes 5-7 days
for the rats to bleed out. It’s the most god-awful painful thing and it’s just not environmentally
friendly, any poison killing the environment is not friendly, it’s an agonizing death for
rats. What we have is environmentally neutral it means it doesn’t enter the food chain.
>>Bierer: Here in the lab inside the new Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technologies a
scientist is testing the baits active ingredient, making sure it meets FDA regulations. The
research behind SenesTech’s product began during Mayer’s post doctorate work at the
University of Arizona, and then it was brought to NAU for further development.
>>Mayer: Then from that piece we’re able to attract business folk to spin off a biotech
business that’s now in an incubator that’s a joint venture between the city, the university,
and business that clearly has already gone global.
>>Bierer: Dr. Mayer says SenesTech follows the Arizona Bioscience Road Map, a plan to
put the state on the fast-track to becoming a biosciences leader. And the work down here
is also important for the university, including graduate and undergraduate students involved
in the research.>>Mayer: I think that’s the exciting piece
because we can excite young scientists with this kind of work, trap them into science,
they get a fire in their belly and then we can show how science can move forward and
be applicable to technologies all around the world.
Bierer: As work continues here in the lab studies are also being done in the rice fields
of Southeast Asia. ContraPest began its registration process in Australia and could be approved
for use in other Southeast Asian countries within the next two years. And because nearly
half the world’s population needs rice to survive many people are looking forward to
utilizing this science in the fields.