Sunday, 27 January 2013

Wasps v moths: Biocontrol uses nature against crop pests

Blinking in the blazing Brazilian sun, a farmer looks up at the sound of an aeroplane, flying low over his sugarcane plantation in Sao Paulo.

A hatch suddenly opens, and a white cloud emerges.

It may look like pesticide, but these are live eggs falling down - from wasps.

Once hatched and grown, the insects inject their own eggs into those of the sugarcane borer - a moth that in its caterpillar stage eats valuable plants - preventing the pest from hatching.
A number of farmers in Brazil have swapped chemicals for wasps, in a country that has recently outgrown the US as the largest consumer of pesticides.

Sugarcane borers eat the plants and can be detrimental to the plantation

The biotechnology firm that is fighting nature with nature - what is known as biocontrol - is Bug Agentes Biologicos, or simply Bug, based in Piracicaba, Sao Paulo.

"Egg-spraying" from a plane is just a trial - at the moment, the wasps' eggs are put on pieces of cardboard and distributed throughout the field. But Bug wants to start using a plane later this year, once the technology is more reliable.

Bug mass-produces Trichogramma galloi, a breed of wasps able to parasitise moth eggs. One wasp can lay its eggs in more than 50 moth eggs in its short life of up to two weeks.

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