A day of reckoning has come for destructive crop pests, in the form of vicious voodoo wasps that can convert hapless insects into zombies. Scientists have cracked the genome code for three species of the parasitic wasp, in hopes of deploying them against pests that destroy billions of tons of crops per year, The Independent reports.
The research team especially wants to figure out which wasp genes control which species of pests the wasps attack. Precise target control on the genetic level could make wasps a potent natural weapon against farm pests. And an added bonus could come from developing the wasp venom into new medical drugs.
Tiny voodoo wasps already help regulate the pest population by laying their eggs inside zombified victims. The wasp larvae that eventually emerge grow into adults by feeding off the flesh of their living host. One wasp puts a particularly nasty twist on the concept by enslaving caterpillar hosts to become zombie bodyguards.
U.S. scientists used thousands of parasitic wasps last year to help defend crops such as California olive groves. Perhaps they can soon direct a more coordinated assault using genetically-modified wasp variants. Who minds the minders?
[via The Independent]