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Wingless Ladybugs Promise Lasting Pest Control

by Steve Levenstein 

Ladybug Ladybug fly away home, your house is on fire and your children will burn... Sorry kiddies, Japanese researchers from Nagoya University have produced "wingless" ladybird beetles that stay on (or near) the plants they're supposed to protect.

Ladybugs, also known as Ladybird Beetles, are voracious predators of harmful insects like aphids and can be bought in chilled bags by home gardeners eager to protect vegetable gardens without resorting to pesticides.

Commercial growers like ladybugs too, for the same reason. Problem is, beetles can fly and sooner or later (usually sooner) the aphids return to munch away unmolested.

Now a team of researchers at the Graduate School of Bioagricultural Sciences in Nagoya, Japan, has effectively clipped the beetles' wings without resorting to either genetic modification or, erm, actually clipping the cute li'l critters' wings.

According to a newly published article in the August 2009 issue of the UK's Insect Molecular Biology magazine, a team led by associate professor Teruyuki Niimi used a larval RNA interference technique to stunt the development of wings while the ladybugs were in their pupal state. The resulting beetles aren't actually wingless; their vestigial wings are just too small to allow the bugs to bugger off, as it were.

Of interest to environmentalists is the fact that the technique does not involve permanent genetic modification (GM) - the next generation of ladybugs will be able to fly normally. That the ladybugs are not sterile is also important because when it comes to eating aphids, flightless ladybug nymphs put their polka-dotted parents to shame.

Professor Niimi is continuing to refine the larval RNA interference technique so that it can be used on a large scale to "mass produce" wingless ladybugs to meet market demand from fruit & veggie growers large and small. (via The Japan Times)

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