Murray Isman

Murray Isman

Dean Emeritus, Applied Biology (Entomology/Toxicology)

FNH Building 244, 2205 East Mall

University of British Columbia, 1975, BSc, Zoology

University of British Columbia, 1977, MSc, Zoology

University of California, Davis, 1981, PhD, Entomology

  • Development of botanical insecticides and antifeedants. Collaborating with university and industrial partners, we have investigated the development of botanical insecticides derived from the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), from medicinal plants and timber species of southeast Asia and Central America, and from tall oil, a byproduct of the pulp and paper industry. For the past 20 years we have been collaborating on the development of essential oil-based pesticides for EcoSMART Technologies Inc. (USA), now under the auspices of KeyPlex (USA) and Kittrich Corp. (USA). Investigations have included isolation and identification of active principles, modes-of-action against pest insects, effects on natural enemies and fish, and efficacy under greenhouse and field conditions.
  • Behavioral and physiological effects of plant defensive chemicals on insects. We have investigated the effects of mixtures of plant chemicals on insect feeding and on the development of resistance to botanical insecticides. Studies have characterized habituation to feeding deterrents in caterpillars, the metabolism of plant defensive chemicals by herbivorous insects, and the pharmacokinetics and fate of plant chemicals in insects. We have also documented synergy among essential oil constituents and determined a mechanism underlying synergy.
  • Since 2011 we have been developing pest management tools for management of bed bugs in human dwellings. These include repellents and attractants (with SemiosBio Technologies Inc.) and natural residual insecticides (with DE Laboratories Inc.).

Research Projects

Host-induced volatiles in tomato as an early warning system for greenhouse pest management

We demonstrated that tomato plants attacked by cabbage loopers emit novel terpenes in quantities related to pest density and duration of feeding. Most importantly, we detected very high levels of these compounds (using an ultrafast portable gas chromatograph) in areas of a commercial greenhouse where insects were feeding at levels that would have gone unnoticed by human scouts (Miresmailli et al. 2010a,b, 2012).

Bioactivity of plant essential oils and their constituents to insects

Research in this area accounted for 1/2 of the peer-reviewed publications from my laboratory in the past five years. In particular, we demonstrated internal synergy of constituents of rosemary oil (Tak et al. 2015) and determined the mechanism – enhanced penetration of one of the toxicants (Tak & Isman 2015). We also demonstrated that essential oils rich in d-limonene can prevent the movement of twospotted spider mites between bean plants in the greenhouse (Da Camara et al. 2015). We continue to evaluate new sources of plant essential oils as insecticides. One example of my recognition for this body of work (apart from numerous invitations for symposium papers and book chapters) is that a paper I published in Crop Protection in 2000 has been cited over 700 times according to ISI’s Web of Science.

Learning and memory in moths

We originally demonstrated that habituation to oviposition/feeding deterrents in cabbage looper larvae alleviated deterrence to those compounds in subsequent moths – an example of memory persisting through metamorphosis. More recently we have demonstrated that this phenomenon is not a result of ‘chemical legacy’ (traces of the compound on the integument of the insect) but requires gustatory exposure (feeding) in larvae (Akhtar et al. 2009).

Graduate Students

Please note: I am no longer accepting ANY graduate students under my supervision.

  • APBI 327 – Introduction to Entomology (10%)
  • PHAR 448 – Environmental & Cellular Toxicology (25%)

See Google Scholar for a full list of publications.

Refereed Research Papers

Tak, J.-H., E. Jovel and M.B. Isman (2016) Comparative and synergistic activity of Rosmarinus officinalis L. essential oil constituents against the larvae and an ovarian cell line of the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni (Lep., Noctuidae). Pest Management Science 72: 474-480.

Tak, J.-H. and M.B. Isman (2015) Enhanced cuticular penetration as the mechanism for synergy of insecticidal constituents of rosemary essential oil in Trichoplusia ni. Scientific Reports 5: 12690.

Isman, M.B. and M.L. Grieneisen (2014) Botanical insecticide research: many publications, limited useful data. Trends in Plant Science 19: 140-145.

Akhtar, Y. and M.B. Isman (2013) Horizontal transfer of diatomaceous earth and botanical insecticides in the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius L. (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). PLOS One, 8(9): e75626

Isman, M.B. (2006) Botanical insecticides, deterrents, and repellents in modern agriculture and an increasingly regulated world. Annual Review of Entomology 51: 45-66.

Refereed Review Papers and Book Chapters (last five years)

  • Isman, M.B. (2016) Pesticides based on plant essential oils: phytochemical and practical considerations. In: Medicinal and Aromatic Crops: Production, Phytochemistry, and Utilization, V.D. Jeliazkov and C.L. Cantrell (eds.), American Chemical Society Symposium Series, in press (accepted 19 Oct 2015).
  • Isman, M.B. (2015) A renaissance for botanical insecticides? Pest Management Science 71: 1587-1590.
  • Isman, M.B. and M.L. Grieneisen (2014) Botanical insecticide research: many publications, limited useful data. Trends in Plant Science 19: 140-145.
  • Miresmailli, S. and M.B. Isman (2014) Botanical insecticides inspired by plant-herbivore chemical interactions. Trends in Plant Science 19: 29-35.
  • Isman, M.B. (2014) Botanical insecticides: A global perspective. In: Biopesticides: State of the Art and Future Opportunities, A.D. Gross, J.R. Coats, S.O. Duke and J.N. Seiber (eds.), American Chemical Society Symposium Series 1172: 21-31.
  • Isman, M.B. and R. Seffrin (2014) Natural insecticides from the Annonaceae – A unique example for developing biopesticides. In: Advances in Plant Biopesticides (D. Singh, ed.), Springer Verlag, pp. 21-33.
  • Isman, M.B. and M.L. Grieneisen (2014) Botanical insecticide research: many publications, limited useful data. Trends in Plant Science 19: 140-145.
  • Miresmailli, S. and M.B. Isman (2014) Botanical insecticides inspired by plant-herbivore chemical interactions. Trends in Plant Science 19: 29-35.
  • Isman, M.B., S. Miresmailli and C. Machial (2011) Commercial opportunities for pesticides based on plant essential oils in agriculture, industry and consumer products. Phytochemistry Reviews 10: 197-204.
  • Akhtar, Y. and M.B. Isman (2012) Plant natural products for pest management: the magic of mixtures, pp. 231-247. In: Advanced Technologies for Managing Insect Pests (I. Ishaaya, S.R. Palli and A.R. Horowitz, eds.), Springer Verlag.
  • Isman, M.B. and G. Paluch (2011) Needles in the haystack: exploring chemical diversity of botanical insecticides, pp. 248-265. In: Green Trends in Insect Control (O. Lopez and J.G. Fernandez-Bolanos, eds.), Royal Society of Chemistry.
  • Gold Medal, Entomological Society of Canada , 2011
  • T. Leigh Distinguished Alumni Lecture, Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis , 2010
  • Peter Wall Distinguished Scholar, Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, UBC , 2004
  • Elected Fellow, Entomological Society of America , 2014
  • Elected Fellow, Royal Entomological Society (London) , 2014
  • Lifetime achievement award, Professional Pest Management Association of British Columbia , 2014
  • President, International Society of Chemical Ecology, 2001-2002
  • President, Phytochemical Society of North America, 1991-1992
  • President, Entomological Society of British Columbia, 1987-1988 and 1998-1999
  • Honorary Scientist, Rural Development Administration, Republic of Korea, 2007-2009
  • Honorary Professor, College of Plant Protection, Northwest A&F University, Yangling, China, 2006
  • Visiting Professor, Chemical Ecology, Universidad Federal de Sao Carlos, Brazil, 1998

Professional Affiliations

  • Jounal of Pest Science, Subject Editor: Plant-derived pesticides 2012
  • Journal of Economic Entomology, Subject Editor: Ecotoxicology 2002
  • Biopesticides International, Regional Editor 2005
  • EcoSMART Technologies Inc., Scientific Advisory Panel – member 1997
  • ADAPPT, OPTIONs, Chair, International advisory committee 2010
  • Bulletin of Entomological Research, Subject Editor: Botanical insecticides 2015