James Throne and engineer Elizabeth Maghirang place tsetse fly pupae in an
automated scanning and sorting system. Click the image for more information
Agricultural Tool Recruited to Help Fight Malaria
and Other Diseases By
Erin Peabody March 3, 2005
It can be hard enough guessing a person's age, but can you imagine
trying to tell an insect's? Engineers with the Agricultural Research Service
(ARS), in a quest to quash
grain-infesting bugs, have developed an instrument that can do just that.
And, unexpectedly, the technology is also proving useful in the battle
to control disease-carrying insects, like mosquitoes and tsetse flies.
Developed by agricultural engineer
Dowell and colleagues at the agency's
Marketing and Production Research Center (GMPRC) in Manhattan, Kan., the
tool uses the invisible powers of near-infrared (NIR) light. All organisms,
including insects, absorb NIR radiation differently, so the energy that's
reflected back from any one of them will have its own unique signature.
GMPRC researchers originally built the instrument to assess grain
kernels' protein content. But ARS entomologist
Baker thought that if the tool could effectively analyze grain composition,
it should also be able to detect a live, growing insect hidden inside a kernel.
And that's not all. Entomologists with the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in
Atlanta, Ga., heard about GMPRC's tool and wondered if it could help identify
mosquito species that carry malaria. CDC researchers would welcome a more
streamlined sorting method, since it's difficult to distinguish between species
that carry malaria and those that do not.
With Dowell's help, CDC entomologists are also using the ARS-developed
technology to rapidly separate male and female tsetse flies. These tiny, biting
insects carry the parasite that causes sleeping sickness, a disease ravaging
several countries in Africa.
Using the instrument, Dowell has helped the researchers successfully
sex and separate male and female tsetse flies while they are still pupae.
Being able to tell the sexes apart early in development allows
researchers more time to sterilize male tsetse flies and transport them to
strategic release sites in Africa. Releasing large numbers of sterile males,
over time, should cause tsetse fly populations to ultimately crash.
about the research in the March issue of Agricultural Research magazine:
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.