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10 April 2014 11:44 am ,
Vol. 344 ,
The Pyrenean ibex, an impressive mountain goat that lived in the central Pyrenees in Spain, went extinct in 2000. But a...
Tight budgets are forcing NASA to consider turning off one or more planetary science projects that have completed their...
Ebola is not a stranger to West Africa—an outbreak in the 1990s killed chimpanzees and sickened one researcher. But the...
In an as-yet-unpublished report, an international panel of geoscientists has concluded that a pair of deadly...
Tropical disease experts tried and failed before to eradicate yaws, a rare disfiguring disease of poor countries. Now,...
Since 2002, researchers have reported that agricultural communities in the hot and humid Pacific Coast of Central...
Balkan endemic kidney disease surfaced in the 1950s and for decades defied attempts to finger the cause. It occurred...
- 10 April 2014 11:44 am , Vol. 344 , #6180
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Don't just fight the enemy alone--send for reinforcements. That's the strategy employed by a team of British and Kenyan scientists against corn pests. In tomorrow's issue of Nature they report that molasses grass planted in corn fields significantly reduces crop damage by repelling destructive moths and summoning the pests' insect enemies.
Moth larvae (caterpillars) pose a serious threat to subsistance farming of corn and sorghum in Africa, and for centuries, farmers have planted two or more crops in the same field to control such pests. To develop a scientifically-based version, John Pickett, from the Institute for Arable Crop Research (IACR) in Rothamsted, U.K., and his collaborators from IACR and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya, have been testing many different wild and cultivated plants.
Now they report that molasses grass, a plant not normally planted in crop fields, is particularly repulsive to corn pests. Grown in alternate rows with corn, it reduced crop damage to 5%, compared to 39% for a monoculture. This high level of protection was partly due to an unexpected benefit: The molasses grass quadrupled the percentage of caterpillars parasitized by a wasp species that lays eggs inside the pests, ultimately killing them. In the lab, the reseachers extracted the caterpillar-repelling chemical and showed that wasps are drawn to it.
Molasses grass is "a wonderful alternative to synthetic insecticides," says May Berenbaum, an entomologist from the Univeristy of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Pickett points out that the method is environentally sound and also affordable for poor farmers. In addition, he says that planting a field with two pest-repelling plants and two pest-attracting "trap crops" should reduce the chances that pests will develop resistance.