Professor, Applied Biology (Entomology/Toxicology)
Interim Director, Wine Research Centre

phone: 6048222329
MacMillan Building 333
2357 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4


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%)

Selected Publications

Refereed Research Papers (last five years)

Akhtar, Y. and M.B. Isman (2016) Efficacy of diatomaceous earth and an aerosol formlation against the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) in the laboratory. Journal of Pest Science, in press (accepted 22 Dec 2015).

Tak, J.-H., E. Jovel and M.B. Isman (2015) Contact, fumigant and cytotoxic activities of thyme and lemongrass oils against larve and an ovarian cell line of the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni. Journal of Pest Science, in press (accepted 25 Feb 2015).

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.

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.

Da Camara, C.A.G., Y. Akhtar, R.C. Seffrin, F.S. Born and M.B. Isman (2015) Repellent activity of    essential oils from two species of Citrus against Tetranychus urticae in the laboratory and greenhouse. Crop Protection 74: 110-115.

Ribeiro, L.P., Y. Akhtar, J.D. Vendramin and M.B. Isman (2014) Comparative bioactivity of selected seed extracts from Brazilian Annona species and an acetogenin-based commercial bioinsecticide against Trichoplusia ni and Myzus persicae. Crop Protection 62: 100-106.

Centko, R.M., D.E. Williams, B.O. Patrick, Y. Akhtar, M.B. Isman, E D. de Silva and R.J. Andersen (2014) Dhilirolides E-N, meroterpenoids produced in culture by the fungus Penicillium purpurogenum    collected in Sri Lanka: structure elucidation, stable isotope feeding studies, and insecticidal activity. Journal of Organic Chemistry 79: 3327-3335.

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. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075626

Stoklosa, A., R. Matraszek, M.B. Isman and M.K. Upadhyaya (2012) Phytotoxic activity of clove oil and its constituents and its modification by light intensity in broccoli and common lambsquarters. Weed Science 60: 607-611.

Miresmailli, S., R.M. Gries, G.J. Gries, R.H. Zumar and M.B. Isman (2012) Population density and feeding duration of cabbage looper larvae on tomato plants alter levels of plant volatile emission. Pest Management Science 68: 101-107.

Akhtar, Y., M.B. Isman, C.-H. Lee, S.-G. Lee and H.-S. Lee (2012) Toxicity of quinones against two-spotted spider mite and three species of aphids in laboratory and greenhouse conditions. Industrial Crops and Products 37: 536-541.

Moreau, T.L. and M.B. Isman (2012) Combining reduced-risk products, trap crops and yellow sticky traps for greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum) management on sweet peppers (Capsicum annum). Crop Protection 34: 42-46.

Akhtar, Y., E. Pages, A. Stevens, R. Bradbury, C.A.G. da Camara and M.B. Isman (2012) Effect of chemical complexity of essential oils on feeding deterrence in larvae of the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni. Physiological Entomology 37: 81-91.

Akhtar, Y., M.B. Isman, L.A. Niehaus, C.-H. Lee and H.-S. Lee. (2012) Antifeedant and toxic effects of naturally occurring and synthetic quinines to the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni. Crop Protection 31: 8-14.

Mullinix, K., J.F. Brunner and M.B. Isman (2011) Apple leafroller (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae) populations and parasitism in an orchard managed with either a grass or alfalfa cover and without insecticides over four growing seasons. International Journal of Fruit Science 11: 99-110.


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.

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

Awards & Honours

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

Additional Information

  • 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