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New pesticide could save billions of dollars

Courtesy of MCT

A new pesticide could potentially save the agricultural business billions of dollars annually by killing crop-eating pests, said David Denlinger, the lead researcher in the study at Ohio State.

Denlinger, a professor of entomology and evolution, ecology and organismal biology at OSU, explained that insects in the midwest only live during the warmer months when there is food for them to eat. In the colder months, crop-eating pests go into a period of dormancy, much like bears or squirrels. This hibernation state is called diapause in insects.

“Many insects will spend nine or 10 months of the year in this dormant state,” Denlinger said.

Denlinger and his team of researchers, funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S.-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund research grants, have identified the hormone that breaks the insects out of this hibernation. In doing so, they can essentially control the insects’ hibernation, Denlinger said.

Through some modifications of the hormone, Denlinger is able to break diapause when he wants and also make diapause last longer.

This means that, if injected with this chemical, an insect could wake up in the middle of winter and freeze to death. Or it could sleep through the summer feast and wake up in the fall to harvested fields and starve to death, according to Denlinger.

“It would be a form of ecological suicide, if you will,” Denlinger said.

The corn earworm was a main target in this research, which is the insect that eats the top of the corn of the cob before a consumer gets a chance to.

“The types of insects that we worked on are major agricultural pests,” Denlinger said. “Currently, heavy insecticide use is directed against them.”

Richard McGinnis, a farmer from southwest Morrow county, has about 1,600 acres of land on which he grows corn and soybeans. He is skeptical of using a product for which effects haven’t been thoroughly tested but is interested if it’s profitable.

“You just have to think, ‘Is it going to make me more money than it’s costing me?’,” McGinnis said.

Though some may be against pesticides in favor of organic produce, McGinnis recognizes that it isn’t realistic for the world.

“What the general public doesn’t understand is that if everybody farmed organically, half the world would starve,” McGinnis said. “You just can’t produce the volume (needed) without using the pesticides and insecticides.”

Denlinger said he still has a lot of research to do before it’s ready for use on farms.

“Right now, these hormones we’ve applied by injecting them into the larvae,” Denlinger said. “But we would need to develop further modifications of this chemical so that it could be incorporated into the plant or applied to the plant’s surface so the insect would eat it.”

Dallas Hettinger, a fourth-year in environmental policy and management, sees the positive effects it could have on farms globally.

“We can look at it as a good aspect in the sense that if we control these pests, damage to crops decrease and over all, we have an increase yield to supply to not only the United States, but as a global aspect, to undeveloped countries,” Hettinger said.

However, Hettinger also acknowledges some of the environmental risks.

“If we blow out one chain of the ecosystem, then what are we doing to the detriment to other parts of our ecosystem, including humans?,” Hettinger asked.

If this were to pass all necessary regulations, this chemical could be a lifesaver for many farmers and their businesses.

“Certainly on a worldwide basis, we’re talking billions of dollars of crop loss from these pests,” Denlinger said.

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