Beneficial fungus helps control red imported fire ants

02/08/2012 11:53:00 AM
By Citrus + Vegetable Magazine Staff

Courtesy of the University of FloridaA beneficial fungus helps neutralize fire ants' undertaker-like behavior, enhancing efficacy.

University of Florida researchers in Gainesville are using some of red imported fire ants' behaviors against them in the battle against the biting and stinging insect.

Red imported fire ants typically haul off their dead and deposit them in "bone yards" far away from the nest, according to a news release.

The practice has significantly reduced the efficacy of commercial biological fungal control methods.

The fungus can't spread if infected ants are separated from the healthy colony.

Nemat Keyhani, an associate microbiology professor, led a team from the university's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

They modified the Beauveria bassiana fungus to produce a peptide—two or more amino acides—that helps regulate the fire ants' nervous system.

The modified fungus is five to eight times more effective in killing fire ants.

At the same time, it has no increased effect on an unrelated insect, the greater wax moth.

An added benefit was the peptide disrupted the ants' undertaker-like behavior.

That means the infected dead ants would remain in the colony, allowing the fungus to spread.

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Dr R    
Seattle WA  |  February, 09, 2012 at 12:07 PM

2 purposeful omissions here folks: 1. You didn't mention that the fungus had been genetically modified: GMO. 2. Those "modified" peptides; oh of course, no impact to anything else that has a nervous system because, bugs are bugs and not mammals or birds or anything else, right? WRONG. I teach cell biology at college, I do research in cell metabolic pathways. Maybe you're dumb enough to think that humans & insects have nothing in common but please, don't treat me like I'm that stupid.

richard esseck    
Bell  |  February, 09, 2012 at 01:23 PM

Great news When will it be available for public?

Rupert Knowles    
UK  |  February, 10, 2012 at 03:54 AM

Dr R, You are not that stupid but over-emotional and that seems to have clouded your scientific thinking. Humans are not sprayed with the Beauveria bassiana fungus, the ants are. Of course any treatment like this has to go through the normal regulatory testing to make sure that accidental contamination does not affect mammals. There are many conventional insecticides that attack the nervous system, but which have proved relatively safe to humans in the concentrations likely to arise from accidental contamination. But to me it's an exciting breakthrough that could be used against other insects. Obviously you are against all GM, but one of the most worrying aspects of GM is that all research to date has been in the hands of the chemical and seed giants like Monsanto who are only interested in profit and not the public good. This research has been done at a University presumably with public funding. If all GM research had been publicly funded, it would now be much more generally accepted! Far more worrying to me is that our children's education is in the hands of teachers with a distorted sense of reality!

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