Farmers are battling an ever-growing rootworm problem, one that is becoming more difficult to handle with pesticides and other conventional methods. Is there a solution to the problem? Many farmers are turning to killer crops. More specifically, they are attempting to use newly genetically-engineered crops to target the genes in rootworms in the hope that this practice may kill the pests in their tracks.
Is There a Viable Solution?
Rootworms are dangerous in their larvae form, feeding on plant roots until the infected plants wither and die. These insects can spread quite easily and very quickly under the right conditions, and can desiccate crops. Although pesticides can treat infected plants, more and more rootworm varieties are becoming resistant to these applications. If they are not adequately controlled, rootworms can reproduce and spread rapidly across neighboring farms and household gardens, causing tremendous economical and environmental damage.
Researchers are forming plants through RNA-interference, a system that is designed to “silence” a certain gene in the rootworm. This basically means that when a rootworm ingests a gene-altering plant, an essential gene within the insect will be repressed. This will ultimately affect the lifecycle of the insect, affecting reproduction and overall lifespan. Although there are still some kinks in developing these types of crops, researchers remain hopeful that such killer crops can be introduced within the next five years.
However helpful killer crops may be to many farmers all across the world, critics remain skeptical. Since any insect can consume plants on a farm, rootworms are not the only species that will be affected. Beneficial insects, such as butterflies and bees, may also be affected. By destroying these pollinators, plant life may be harmed. Researchers are continuing to find ways to protect beneficial wild life while still targeting rootworms and other harmful agricultural pests. It is uncertain whether or not these pests will respond favorably, or whether or not they will build resistance to these crops. What is known, however, is that these new crops may be a helpful addition to many farms across the nation.