It sounds like an
episode from the latest TV crime drama - but in reality it’s
an attempt by researchers at Warwick HRI, the horticultural
research arm of the University of Warwick, to combat one of the
major pests in apple and pear orchards around the world.
A hanging basket-style dispenser full of a virus known to kill
the larvae of codling moth is hung in the orchard. The dispenser is
designed to protect the virus from the elements while enticing the
adult moths into its interior with a strong source of codling moth
pheromone. The insect arrives hoping for a sexual encounter - but
leaves frustrated and covered in the virus, which it then passes on
to other moths in the course of successful mating. This results in
direct contamination of the moth’s eggs or of the laying
The larvae die after eating the virus on the egg or plant
surface – victims of their parents’ carnal desires!
Codling Moths cost fruit growers millions of pounds in damaged
crops each year. Spraying is the common way of dealing with this
pest, but the virus degrades in direct sunlight and orchards must
be repeatedly treated to keep the moth in check. Warwick
HRI’s device allows growers to selectively target the pest
with a virus that kills its larvae without killing other beneficial
insects – an approach that can be adapted to target crop
pests around the world.
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