Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Biodiversity to the Rescue: Voodoo Wasps Could Help Detoxify Agriculture -- and People

Uttering the words 'biological diversity' typically conjures up images of such natural wonders as Lemurs, Jaguars and Panda Bears.  However, Nature's Services provided by insects -- including pollination of our crops and predation of our crop pests -- are among the most valuable provided by any group of organisms.

This article in the London Independent details the critical services provided by a predator of crop pests, parasitic 'voodoo wasps'.  These wasps, the story goes, are being studied for their potential to replace the use of toxic pesticides in agricultural fields:

They are so small that most people have never even seen them, yet "voodoo wasps" are about to be recruited big time in the war on agricultural pests as part of the wider effort to boost food production in the 21st century.

The wasps are only 1 or 2 millimetres long fully-grown but they have an ability to paralyse and destroy other insects, including many of the most destructive crop pests, by delivering a zombie-inducing venom in their sting.

Now scientists believe they have made the breakthrough that will enable them to recruit vast armies of voodoo wasps to search and destroy farm pests on a scale that could boost crop yields without polluting the wider environment with insecticides.

I love the potential of this ecosystem services success story.  However, I sure hope that if scientists are genetically modifying these organisms to attack specific crop pests, they are being very very careful to make sure the genetically modified wasps don't end up becoming a new invasive species problem.


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