New tools help eradicate the apple moth

September 18, 2009 7:06:25 PM PDT
California farmers are concerned about a different kind of flood-- infestations by the light brown apple moth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying a method that has worked before-- with other pests. It consists of breeding moths that are sterile.

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You might never know it's there -- a non-descript facility in Moss Landing where a sign only hints of the science going on, within.

"It is as good, we believe, as the usual apple moth gets," said Larry Hawkins from the Department of Agriculture.

Hence the rub, because the light brown apple moth could cost California farmers billions in lost crops. After two years of eradication attempts, the USDA has spent $1 million on what it hopes is a better idea.

"We're making sterile light brown apple moths for release," said Hawkins.

You might call this a factory for futile an unfertile breeding. In one room there are normal adult apple moths that produce eggs morning, noon and night.

Next door, those eggs become larvae, spending three weeks in converted flavor savor containers.

When they reach adulthood, they grow wings, and fly into an air current that sucks them through these tubes, and into a refrigerator, where the cold immobilizes them for collection.

"If we were hand-picking each adult, we would not be mass-rearing these insects," said a lab technician.

The next phase takes place at Lawrence Livermore Lab, where teams expose the apple moths to radiation, which sterilizes them. Within 12-20 hours they're out in the real world thinking they're reproducing.

That's the intent, anyway, and later this month they will try the plan for real. It's an attempt to use passion to eradicate a pest.

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