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.