Nov. 25, 1998 One day a typical home may include a termite detector in addition to the customary smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
And that day could be soon - once a new termite detection system developed by the LSU Agricultural Center is perfected and on the market.
A product of the combined efforts of Dr. Gregg Henderson and Dr. Jian Chen of the Ag Center's Department of Entomology and Dr. Roger Laine of its Department of Biochemistry, the system has the potential to save homeowners millions of dollars a year by early detection of the wood-eating pests.
"Most termite inspections start with a technician in an attic or basement with a flashlight and a screwdriver or knife, poking at rafters and floor joists, looking for damage caused by termites," Henderson says. "By that time, a lot of damage may have been done."
Researchers recently discovered termites produce naphthalene - a hydrocarbon they apparently use as a defense against natural enemies, such as ants. And the Ag Center researchers developed a method of using these unique gases to indicate the presence of termites.
The detection system, which has a patent pending, samples the air in the walls of a building and analyzes its composition. If the system identifies the chemicals associated with termites, there's a strong possibility the insects are there, the experts say.
A homeowner's inability to detect the presence of termites before their activities become noticeable is a major obstacle in early termite control.
"It's our weakest link in fighting termites," Henderson says. "Currently, termites are found through indirect methods after they've already done significant damage."
The detection system, however, could change that.
This high-priority research in termite control was funded through the Louisiana Educational Quality Support Fund, a competitive grant program within the state's university system that provides financial support for important research before other funding is available.
Henderson says now that the termite detection process has been developed and has a patent pending, the next step is full-scale testing.
"We're negotiating with a national laboratory now to develop a device to apply the technology," Henderson says. "With an agreement in place, it would take about a year to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the system."
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