The Great Promise of Voodoo Wasps

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 3:57 PM EST

Researchers have sequenced the genome of three species of parasitic "voodoo wasps." Since the tiny creatures feed on insects that plague crops, scientists believe they could serve as an alternative to chemical pesticides. If that weren't cool enough news on its own, consider their method of killing, which sounds like something out of a sci-fi film. A zombie flick, to be precise. The wasps get their Voodoo nickname from their habit of zombifying their prey:

The three wasps all belong to the Nasonia genus and are strictly speaking "parasitoid" species, meaning that they lay their eggs inside the paralysed bodies of other insects, keeping them alive long enough for the wasp larvae to grow and mature into adults as they feed off the living flesh of their "zombie" host.

Said lead scientist John Werren in a statement, "If we can harness their full potential, they would be vastly preferable to chemical pesticides which broadly kill or poison many organisms in the environment, including us."

News of non-toxic pesticides is always welcome, but these ideas rarely take off on commercial scale, thanks in no small part to the mammoth chemical pesticide lobby. We recently reported on Obama's nomination of Islam "Isi" Siddiqui, executive of the pesticide industry lobbying group CropLife America (CLA), as chief agricultural negotiator for the office of the US Trade Representative. When Michelle Obama announced plans to plant an organic vegetable garden on the White House grounds, CLA members wrote her a letter saying the thought of chemical-free veggies made them "shudder." Touchy, touchy. Isn't it fun to imagine how they might react to a flock of chemical-free zombifying wasps?

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