Cornell University entomologists have unlocked an evolutionary secret to how insects evolve into new species. The discovery has major implications for the control of insect populations through disruption of mating, suggesting that over time current eradication methods could become ineffective, similar to the way insects develop pesticide resistance.
The researchers, led by Wendell L. Roelofs, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Insect Biochemistry at Cornell, made the discovery while examining ways to keep European corn borers from mating, multiplying and then chewing up farmers fields. They discovered the existence of a previously undetected gene, the delta-14, that can regulate the attractant chemicals produced in sex-pheromone glands of female borers. The gene can be suddenly switched on, changing the pheromone components that females use to attract males for mating.
The entomologists have demonstrated that insects evolve chemical systems in leaps rather than in minute stages, as had been previously assumed. The researchers also discovered that there are rare males in the corn borer population -- about 1 in 200 -- capable of responding to chemicals produced by the delta-14 gene.
Blaine P. Friedlander, Jr. | Cornell University News Service
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