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Super-Sexed Insects Coming Soon

Super-Sexed Insects Coming Soon

Looks like it’s party time for the ladies of the agricultural pest world. A new method for sustainable pest control using “super-sexed” sterilized male insects to copulate with females in the wild is being developed by agricultural researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The scientists are hoping to provide a new way of eliminating pests without the use of chemicals. Okay, so maybe the female insects are going to miss out on the joy of raising a brood of bug babes—but less asphyxiation by pesticide and super-sexed males? Nothing wrong with that…in concept at least.

There has been ongoing development of an assortment of toxic chemicals to control crop pests and carriers of diseases since the beginning of last century. However, this approach has led to the evolution of resistance to pesticides, along with deleterious effects on human health and the environment. As an alternative method of controlling pests, Professor Boaz Yuval at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, is working on upgrading an old approach: the sterile insect technique. The premise is to raise millions of individuals of a pest species, separate the sexes, sterilize the males and release them into the field. It is expected that the sterile males will copulate with wild females, who will then be unable to lay fertile eggs, thus reducing the pest populations.

And if you are wondering just what exactly makes, say, a male leafhopper sexy? Apparently not a deep voice and abs of steel—no, more along the lines of nutritional status and beneficial residual bacteria. Hot! Yuval and his colleagues are formulating a high-protein, bacteria enhanced “stud” breakfast which will be provided to males before their release, and significantly improve their sexual performance when released.

I’m all for novel ways of reducing the need for pesticides. I want to do cartwheels when I think about some of the California vineyards that are employing owls, songbirds, hawks and bats for chemical-free pest control. (Shafer Vineyards, I’m talking about you.) So in theory, I love the Casanova-bug approach. But how practical is it to raise millions of bugs in a factory, sterilize them, sex them up, and then transport them to the specified fields? And doesn’t interfering with nature to such a degree make you a little squeamish? All in all, it’s heartening to know that agricultural scientists are taking the severity of pesticide use seriously enough to be pushing the envelope in sustainable farming methods. I hope it proves to be a feasible idea—we’ll see how fertile it turns out to be.

Read more: Health & Safety, Lawns & Gardens, Natural Pest Control, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, News & Issues, Pests

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

97 comments

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7:07AM PDT on Oct 10, 2012

I wondering what happens next with Casanova-bug approach theory.

6:21AM PDT on Oct 11, 2011

Thanks for the article.

11:33AM PST on Nov 26, 2010

Good idea, and atleast it's not harming the animals in any way.

12:11AM PDT on Jun 19, 2010

interesting, thanks!

9:09AM PDT on Jun 16, 2010

"The premise is to raise millions of individuals of a pest species, separate the sexes, sterilize the males and release them into the field. It is expected that the sterile males will copulate with wild females, who will then be unable to lay fertile eggs, thus reducing the pest populations."

I wonder is this would work for humans?
It is our interference with nature and our own species population problems at the root here. Genetically modified crops creating superweeds and super insects, with mono-culture farming practices create more problems.
We need to start living within our means and using resources more carefully instead of trying to engineer our way out of every problem with bandages that mask the underlying cause.
Support organic products, sustainable farming practices and responsible reproduction. Time to recognize who the real pests are.

4:57AM PDT on Jun 16, 2010

Let's see what happens. On a small scale the results may be different from what would occur if used extensively. Good article btw.

8:26AM PDT on May 30, 2010

Very interesting!

8:17AM PDT on May 30, 2010

Very interesting!

8:03AM PDT on Apr 24, 2010

Interesting article. Thank you Melissa!!!!

7:00PM PDT on Apr 13, 2010

Interesting story.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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