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Forget insecticides. Scientists are making pests that destroy themselves

Forget insecticides. Scientists are making pests that destroy themselves

By on 31 Aug 2015commentsShare

Let’s get this right out in the open: Scientists are genetically engineering moths to self destruct. I know, I know — sounds pretty mad scientist-y. But consider this: Those moths are wreaking havoc on sauerkraut-destined cabbage, kale, and other super-hip cruciferous super foods. So either the moths go, or you have to start microwaving leftover rice and hot sauce for lunch like everyone else.

Now that I’ve got your attention, pop open a jar of that artisanal sauerkraut and let’s begin. Diamondback moths are kind of the Incredible Hulks of the pest world. Try to kill them with a single pesticide, and they’ll just develop resistance and grow stronger. Farmers try to work around this by deploying multiple pesticides in rotation, but even then, the moths remain a stubborn foe. Here’s more from the New York Times:

An invasive species, the diamondback moth was once a minor nuisance. It became an agricultural headache in the late 1940s as chemical pesticide use exploded. The moth, the first crop pest to evolve resistance to DDT, multiplied as feebler competitors died off.

Today, the pest is found where kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage and other cabbage cousins grow. Hungry caterpillars that hatch from eggs laid on the plants cost farmers an estimated $5 billion a year worldwide. And the diamondback moth continues to adapt to new generations of pesticides. In Malaysia, it is immune to all synthetic sprays.

OK — so chemicals don’t work. And the moths’ natural foe, wasps, are even less effective than chemicals, the Times reports. Desperate, scientists even tried sterilizing the suckers back in the ’90s using gamma radiation — something that totally screwed the unfortunately named screwworm — but that didn’t work either, according to the Times.

Fresh out of ideas, scientists at Cornell and the British biotech company Oxitec pieced together a gene that makes female moths dependent on an antibiotic for survival. That way, when they’re out in the wild, the females die before reaching reproductive age, the Times reports. (If the feminist in you is angry that the self-destruction works only on females, take comfort in knowing that the gene leaves a bunch of adult males without anyone to bang.)

Not surprisingly, these mutant moths have sparked some controversy. Here’s more from the Times:

Groups opposed to the use of genetically modified organisms worry that the protein made by the synthetic gene could harm wildlife that eat the moths.

“We would argue that more information should be collected,” said Helen Wallace, the director of GeneWatch U.K.

Haydn Parry, the chief executive of Oxitec, says the company addressed this concern and others in data submitted to the Department of Agriculture.

“We fed the protein to mosquitoes, fish, beetles, spiders and parasitoids,” he said. “It’s nontoxic.”

Scientists at Cornell are currently testing the effectiveness of the gene by putting modified moths and wild moths together in outdoor cages. Anyone concerned about mutant moths wandering around organic fields where they don’t belong needn’t worry, the Times says:

Studies suggest the likelihood of diamondback moths straying is low. Wild moths released into the open tend to stay put as long as they have food and company. Any that do venture farther afield are likely to be wiped out by New York’s cold winter.

Even if strays are found, legal experts say that national organic standards penalize only the deliberate use of a genetically modified organism.

And fortunately, the researchers at Oxitec equipped the moths with a gene from coral that makes them glow red under ultraviolet light, so if they do get out, they’ll be easy to spot (assuming most farmers are also aspiring crime scene investigators).

Just like those mosquitos modified for self destruction down South, these moths will face a lot of scientific and societal barriers before gaining acceptance in the agriculture world. Still, they’re slated for a test run in a small cabbage patch next summer, so it’s worth considering how you feel about them now. Personally, I’m not too torn up about scientists tinkering with disease-carrying mosquitos, and if it means less insecticide use, mutant moths don’t sound so bad either, especially considering they’re kind of wired for self destruction already.

Source:

Replacing Pesticides With Genetics

, The New York Times.

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Get Quality Marijuana Seeds From Seed Supreme

More and more people are getting into the marijuana grow scene. Growing your own marijuana can be rewarding, save money, and provide the consumer with marijuana that they can trust because, after all, they grew it. The first thing to do when you want to start growing marijuana is to secure quality genetics. Simply wanting […]

How To Grow Dense And Bushy Marijuana Plants

Tips for the Prevention and Treatment of Stretching in Cannabis Growth Growing marijuana plants indoors presents a whole plethora of potential benefits. It gives you the freedom to cultivate strains and plants that would never thrive outdoors. It gives you the chance to learn about the fundamentals of plant growth, and offers you finely tuned […]

How Much Coffee Should You Really Be Drinking?

I love coffee, and I’ve written about it a lot over the past few years, from why it’s actually good for both mental and physical health, to reasons to drink java before a workout. So I wasn’t surprised when, for the first time in history, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee gave coffee a thumbs up. But many of the headlines pertaining to the report didn’t tell the whole story, leaving a lot of people wondering how much is really OK. To determine your daily dose, here are five factors to consider. Everyone’s different The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee looked at whether coffee poses any health risks, a topic they have previously been silent on. They concluded that strong evidence shows moderate coffee consumption (3 to 5 eight-ounce cups per day, or up to 400 milligram/day caffeine) isn’t tied to any long-term dangers for healthy people. Now, the word “healthy” is key (read on for more), and this is a general statement, not a directive. In other words, the committee isn’t saying that everyone should drink 3 to 5 cups a day. Even if it may offer some benefits, it’s important to listen to your body. Some people can drink a strong cup of coffee and feel fantastic. Others may drink half a cup and feel jittery and be left with an upset stomach. There’s a lot of individual variation when it comes to how coffee makes you feel. So, don’t take this as a green light to down a pot a day. Consider what feels best for you. (And if the answer is none, there’s no reason to start drinking java.) Read more: 20 Best Foods to Eat for Breakfast Your current health matters The committee considered healthy individuals. If you already have heart disease or other chronic conditions, you may still need to curb your coffee consumption. For example, I sometimes recommend coffee to my healthy athlete clients, but others who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or other digestive disorders feel much better when they eliminate it, as do those who have anxiety disorders. And while coffee hasn’t been shown to cause high blood pressure across the board, it may aggravate the condition. Bottom line: if you have any acute or ongoing medical conditions or your blood work values have been out of the normal range, talk to your doctor or personal dietitian/nutritionist about what’s best for you. Be mindful of your sleep One thing we know for certain is that caffeine interferes with sleep for most people, and catching enough zzz’s is critical for mental and physical well being, as well as for weight control (check out my previous post 5 Healthy Habits That Regulate Your Appetite). A good rule of thumb is to nix all caffeine at least six hours before bed. So if you’re tempted to pour another cup when you’re in an afternoon slump, find other ways to perk up, like going for a quick walk, listening to a five-minute guided meditation, or drinking a cold glass of water. Read more: 18 Reasons Why Your Stomach Hurts Your genetics play a role Due to a genetic variation which affects a particular enzyme, some people break down caffeine at a very slow rate. It’s fairly common and, for these people, even a moderate daily coffee intake can increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. Access to this genetic test was extremely limited until recently, but if you’re interested, a University of Toronto-affiliated company called Nutrigenomix now offers it, and you can order it through a registered dietitian. Consider what else is in your cup While I’ve written about coffee’s potential benefits, I still often recommend limiting it to just one cup in the morning. That’s because many people aren’t able to drink it without doctoring it up with some kind of milk and sweetener, and those extras can add up to surplus calories that feed fat cells. For example, 150 calories (roughly the amount in a skinny vanilla latte) doesn’t sound like much, but downing an extra 150 calories above and beyond what your body needs to support your ideal weight each day can leave you 10 to 15 pounds heavier. Not to mention that extra cups of Joe tend to crowd out water, the ultimate beverage for optimal health. Balance is always the goal. Read more: Best and Worst Foods for Sleep Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. This article originally appeared on Health.com. […]