Virus Makes Moths Too Sick for Sex
A virus that prevents corn ear-worms from mating may become a new natural
weapon. Each year, earworms and related insect pests damage about $5 billion
worth of corn, cotton, and other crops worldwide. ARS scientists in Beltsville,
Maryland, discovered the virus in 1994. They named it "gonad-specific
virus" because it infects only the moth's reproductive organs. It deforms
the female's ovaries and the male's testes. Scientists speculate that releasing
virus-infected moths in crop fields would render sterile about 70 to 80 percent
of their progeny. The rest might reproducebut would transmit virus to
their offspring. Beltsville scientists are trying to identify the virus' gene
structure. They're also conducting a field test in cooperation with ARS
colleagues in Stoneville, Mississippi. ARS has filed a patent application on
use of the virus.
Biocontrol Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland; phone (301) 504-6327.
Computers Put Weevils, Woodpeckers on the Map
Until now, red-cockaded woodpeckers and boll weevils have shared little but
an ability to fly. The former are rare and endangered, while the latter are all
too abundantto the persistent exasperation of cotton growers. In
Mississippi, however, both creatures are showing up on computer-generated maps.
ARS scientists designed the color-coded maps to alert cotton growers as to
whether, where, and when boll weevil numbers could be climbing to
crop-threatening levels. But in a new pilot study, scientists with the federal
Fish and Wildlife Service are adapting the maps. FWS scientists aim to monitor
the red-cockaded woodpeckers living in a Mississippi wildlife refuge. That
could help them design and evaluate ways to protect the birds and boost their
USDA-ARS Boll Weevil Research Laboratory, Mississippi State, Mississippi;
phone (601) 323-2230.
ARS Kit Checks Fruits and Vegetables for Fungicide Residues
A new kit just entering the marketplace can verify that fungicide residues
on the surface of fruits and vegetables are within safe levels. The fungicide,
thiabendazole, protects potatoes, apples, bananas, lemons, oranges, and other
produce from mold and rot. ARS researchers and colleagues from
Millipore/Immuno-Systems, Bedford, Massachusetts, developed the kit. It will
simplify safety checks by regulatory agencies, food processors, and retailers.
Growers can use it too. The test can ensure that a thiabendazole concentration
applied in a dip or spray can guard the harvest but will not leave excess
residue. The kit uses customized proteins called monoclonal antibodies. In a
liquid that contains bits of fruit or vegetable peel, the proteins bind to any
fungicide present. This changes the liquid's color. The test takes about 4
hours, much less time than other methods.
L. Brandon, USDA-ARS
Contaminants Research Unit, Albany, California; phone (510) 559-5783.
Threesome Is Berry Good News
Farmers and backyard gardeners in some parts of the country should discover
three new strawberry cultivars available for the 1996 season. Last year, ARS
geneticists and their cooperators from other institutions released Mohawk,
Northeaster, and Delmarvel to nurseries. All three are early-maturing and
disease resistant. In June, the plants produce firm, tasty fruit for shipping
as well as for local fresh markets. Delmarvel appears best adapted to the
Mid-Atlantic region. Northeaster is suited for frozen as well as fresh markets,
and its name tells where in the United States it should grow well. Mohawk
should thrive there and also in southeastern Canada.
Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland; phone (301) 504-6571.