Crop Pests Stopped Using Innovative Technology

The Wide World of Pest Control

Bugs come in over 91,000 forms in the United States. We encounter them day and night, outside and inside, on our plants, pets, clothing, food, and bodies. Deer flies, mosquitoes, bedbugs, ticks, yellow jackets—we know lots of them that sting or bite. Some carry disease. But, insects that affect our food supply are of great concern because we need to eat.

Limits of Chemical Controls

There are a variety of strategies to control the pest problem. The “modern” approach has been one of “kill the little buggers” and for half a century there has been a strong dependence on conventional insecticides. Unfortunately, insects have acclimated to many poisons and have become resistant to them. Collateral damage compounds the problem, because an insecticide may end up killing “friendly” bugs, damaging the environment, or even making people sick.

Is A New Approach Possible?

The world has been excited about DNA and RNA for several decades, ever since “Star Wars” and “NCIS” popularized the world of “mitochondrial” and “nuclear” DNA, RNA, and protein microbiology via our tv sets. Every organism has a program built into every cell that determines how the cell (and the organism as a whole) will grow and thrive. That program involves biological switches that turn various processes on and off as the cell manufactures proteins. (Plant cells operate in a similar manner with DNA residing in the chloroplast.)

Insects eat plants and convert plant proteins into digestable food, allowing the bug to grow. What would happen if the program coding in the plant were altered so that the bug could enjoy a meal but get no useful protein from the plant? The answer? “If you are denied food, you die! Goodbye, bugs!”

colorado-potato-beetleThat Poor Potato

A decade ago researchers worked on identifying an insect protein derived from the favorite food of the Colorado potato beetle, deemed a nasty crop pest. The RNA of the plant was altered to allow the bug to feed on that favorite food but to deny the bug the ability to digest the protein. The project was partly successful a decade ago because of where the RNA was inserted into the plant’s cell. Recently, the RNA was double-stranded and placed in a different part of the cell’s program structure, the chloroplast. The new RNA placement within the chloroplast of the potato’s cells prevented any protein access by the beetle. Result? Good potatoes, dead bugs! This exciting news is located here on Scientific American.

Complicated Life

Control of insects remains complicated. Chemical management via insecticides continue to interest many consumers. There are environmental strategies for managing bugs and not just killing them indiscriminately. And there are new approaches related to cellular DNA, RNA, and protein manipulation. The press even covered a bioengineered mosquito to control malaria. Is it possible for a consumer to get a handle on the technology relating to pests and make some wise choices for that consumer’s bugs? Green Home Pest is always looking forward to new green and safe methods of controlling pest populations.


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