Friday, January 25, 2013

How wasps and fungi can save crops

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.

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.

More: How wasps and fungi can save crops