Voodoo wasps: The key to ending world hunger?
Tiny wasps, which turn their victims into zombies, could be used to naturally exterminate crop pests and boost food production.
Fri, Jan 15, 2010 at 02:07 PM
Why use chemical warfare when Mother Nature has a solution that’s perfectly tailored to the problem? That’s what some scientists are wondering as pesticides prove too heavy-handed a weapon against crop pests, and a more effective foe emerges: the voodoo wasp.
These wasps, which measure just 1-2 millimeters long, are so small that they typically escape notice from humans.
But they could just turn out to be the biggest ally we have in an effort to boost crop production for the planet’s growing population, according to an article in The Independent.
Voodoo wasps sting their victims with a venom that turns them into zombies before laying eggs in their dying bodies. The venom keeps the insects alive just long enough for the wasp larvae to grow into adults, feeding off the flesh of their hosts.
Study leader Professor John Werren of the University of Rochester says the wasps can be recruited to target specific pests.
His research team decoded the full genomes of three parasitic wasp species, which could allow them to use the wasps as natural pesticide and also possibly use the venom in human medicine.
"These genome sequences will be a major tool for agricultural pest control. Many people may not realize how dependent humans are on these tiny wasps which protect our food crops and save billions of dollars each year by reducing crop loss," team member Chris Smith of San Francisco State University told The Independent.
The wasps, which are harmless to people, pets and plants, could prove to be an unprecedented tool against world hunger.
"If we can harness their full potential, they would be vastly preferable to chemical pesticides which broadly kill or poison many organisms in the environment. We basically broadcast toxins into the environment — pesticides to control in a very nonspecific way a large number of pests. As a result the environment is exposed to these toxins, and we are as well."