We are all reliant on healthy crops being delivered year in and year out, which is why the control of pests has become big business. What may come as a surprise to many, given the increase in annual crop yield, is that the area of land used for planting really hasn’t changed that much in the past 40 or so years. During that time the amount of crops being harvested has trebled, with much of the credit for that increase going to chemical pesticides. The insects and pests that could potentially do harm to crops are being kept at bay, but the question has become what the cost is of doing so.
One company that is on the cutting edge of pesticide and insecticide development is CSIRO. Researchers there have been working with the good folks at Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) Ltd to develop a different kind of insecticide that can still do the job that it is supposed to do, but without the potential harmful side effects that could do damage to the environment over the long haul. How they are doing it is actually a stroke of genius.
Insects are born with a hard exoskeleton that is unable to expand as the insect begins to grow. At some point in the moulting stages, the insect has to shed the cuticle in order to continue its growth and natural life cycle. Insects regulate this whole process by using a hormone called ecdysone that is responsible for regulating gene activity during metamorphosis and other stages of the life cycle. It is these hormones that CSIRO are targeting during the moult. What this means is that pest-specific insecticides can be developed that take care of the pest problem without hurting the environment in the process.
When the synthetic molecules that the researchers have created are introduced to the pests, it essentially confuses their whole biological make-up, causing them to moult before they are naturally ready. This synthetic molecule attacks the ecdysone receptors of each individual pest in a way that brings about early death. Since mammals, humans included, do not have these receptors, they are not affected by the insecticides being used. Eventually, all insect pests will be subjected to the new insecticide, but for now, it is the sheep blowfly and body lose that is being targeted.
While it is farmers who will benefit from this technology, residential exterminators are also adopting a similar tactic. Companies like Man VS Pests on the Sunshine Coast are now routinely using products such as synthetic pyrethroid to treat homes in a manner that is both safe to mammals and environmentally friendly. These synthetic materials are safe to use anywhere, and have even been applied in hospitals and other areas where hygiene and safety are a must. It is great to know that the pest situation will soon be able to be kept completely under control without delivering any kind of negative side effects to the environment.