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ARS, Company Work on New Insect Marking Kit

By David Elstein
January 8, 2003

Agricultural Research Service entomologist James R. Hagler has developed a simple, effective way of marking insects and is working with Indiana-based Agdia Inc. to make this technique available in an easy-to-use test kit.

Hagler, with the ARS Western Cotton Research Laboratory in Phoenix, Ariz., is working with Agdia as part of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA). The company produces diagnostic test kits for researchers and growers.

There are many reasons for marking insects, such as to determine where insects migrate or to track the movement of particular insects. But marking can be time consuming and expensive, and conventional insect markers do not work well on very small insects.

Hagler has spent the last 10 years perfecting his technique of feeding insects diets mixed with a protein known as immunoglobulin G (IgG). He then releases the marked insects. When he finally recaptures the insects, he analyzes them using an immunological test called ELISA. Agdia is working with Hagler to make the test even easier and quicker--with results in a few minutes rather than a few hours.

Hagler has been testing other ways of marking insects more efficiently. One way is to simply spray them with a hand sprayer or an airbrush. However, this can be difficult since some of these insects are microscopic. For the really small ones, he is trying to "fog" them with a nebulizer that creates vapor similar to that released by dry ice when it's placed in water.

At the end of the CRADA, Hagler hopes that through the partnership, a simple-to-use test kit will be on the market so individuals can easily test whether their insects contain the IgG and other markers.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.