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Biocontrol of pests raises yields, helps cut costs


Biocontrol of agricultural pests, which relies on insects, is ecologically friendly and does not harm the production of crops or the soil. While biocontrol has existed in nature for ages, scientists now claim they can control the characteristics of the pest-eating bio agents. The National Bureau of Agriculturally Important Insects (NBAII), which comes under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), has bred more than 30,000 insects that can be used as biocontrol agents.
Dr Abraham Verghese, Director of NBAII, told Express that there was high demand for pesticide-free, organic farm produce in India and overseas. As a result, the only safe option for pest control available to farmers was biocontrol methods. He was participating at an international workshop on mass rearing and quality assurance of biocontrol agents here. Dr Verghese provided the example of Hebbal Lake to highlight the use of biocontrol methods. The lake was infested with water hyacinths till about five-six years ago. The pests were done away with by introducing weevils into the lake, which fed on the plants. The weevils have to be reintroduced every few years. Dr Verghese also gave the example of a caterpillar that fed on coconut leaves, which could not be killed by conventional insecticide sprays. These were killed by introducing biocontrol agents. Rice borers have also been kept under control by similar agents. “An acre of land with paddy may need biocontrol agents worth only Rs 150. The farmer increases his yield and reduces his costs of production by using this method,” Dr Verghese explained. NBAII does not want to be seen to be resting on its laurels. The institute is currently training entrepreneurs on rearing biocontrol agents and farmers on their methods of use. “We want the agents to be mass produced so that all farmers can apply them, “ Dr Verghese said.

Pvt co roped in to keep Kanpur zoo rodent-free


The Kanpur zoo administration has roped in Pest Control of India to put an end to rat menace at the zoo. Though the rodents are not a problem for most wild animals, they gobble up and contaminate the feed given to birds housed in the aviary. The rodents also attack the food stocked in the store house for herbivores.
Talking to TOI, the zoo veterinarian Dr RK Singh said Pest Control of India employees are making efforts to ensure that areas like aviary, indoor wards in veterinary hospital, canteen, and store house remain free from rats as they cause damage to the food stock.
He said rats also pose a major health hazard as they are carriers of various diseases. "These diseases can cause kidney failure in animals leading to their death. Rats also carry a number of pathogenic bacterial diseases especially leptospira which are harmful for the birds. Apart from this, they are also responsible for endoparasitic and actoparasitic diseases like ticks and lice," informed Dr Singh.
Dr Singh further said a rat killer cake of around two kg is being spread in different areas in the zoo by the pest control experts. Dr Singh said this exercise will be repeated every two months to keep the zoo rodent-free. He said an MoU will be signed with Pest Control of India in this regard after which the company will provide regular services to the zoo.

TN farm varsity in research tie-up with Bio-control Research Lab


Tamil Nadu Agricultural University has inked an agreement with Bio-control Research Laboratories (BCRL), Bangalore, for co-operative work in the fields of biological control of crop pests and diseases, pheromone technology and urban pest management, both in education and research.
The Registrar in-charge of the Farm Varsity P. Kalaiselvan and K. P. Jayanth, Vice-President, BCRL, inked the agreement in the presence of TNAU Vice-Chancellor K. Ramasamy.
The farm varsity has, in a release, said it promotes eco-friendly pest management not only for agricultural crop pests but household pests as well.
BCRL has agreed to help the farm varsity’s undergraduate students in internship and PG students do part of their research in their labs.

Termites - engineer fairy circles


A German scientist thinks he can now explain the strange rings of grass that cover great swathes of desert-margin land in southwestern Africa.
These so-called fairy circles have variously been pinned on the presence of other, poisonous plants, on ants, and even toxic gases rising from below.
But Norbert Juergens says the one ever-present factor is sand termites.
The creatures have engineered the rings to maintain a supply of water in their environment, he tells Science magazine.
The University of Hamburg researcher has been studying fairy circles for many years, examining hundreds of them in detail.
He reports how the invertebrates (Psammotermes allocerus) first clear a patch of ground by eating the roots of short-lived, annual grasses.
This bare, sandy earth then becomes an effective rain trap - with no vegetation, water cannot be lost through transpiration (the evaporation of water from plants).
Instead, it collects, oasis-like, just below the surface where it can sustain the termites and a supply of perennial grasses at the margins of the circles. These are available to eat even in the driest seasons.
The regime, says Prof Juergens, also drives wider benefits, with the insects becoming a valuable food resource for a whole range of other animals such as geckos, moles, aardvarks, jackals, spiders, ants and the like.

Researchers develop remote - controlled cockroaches


Researchers have developed a disgustingly cool remote-controlled bug. The bug in question is a giant cockroach. Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a system that uses an electronic interface to steer cockroach. The researchers say that their goal was to determine whether they could create a wireless biological interface to control the cockroach.
According to assistant Professor Alper Bozkurt, the team hopes that it will be able to create a mobile web of smart sensors using these remote-controlled cockroaches. The bugs could help with tasks such as finding survivors in buildings destroyed by earthquakes according to the professor. The team had to devise a cheap and safe way to control the cockroaches and ensure they operated within defined parameters.
The remote controlling method is intended to allow controllers to send the bugs to specific areas of interest. The system developed by the researchers uses an embedded cheap, light, and commercially available chip with a wireless receiver and transmitter. In testing, the team used Madagascar hissing cockroaches. The little backpack attached to each of the roaches weighs 0.7 g and has a microcontroller that monitors the interface between implanted electrodes and the tissue of the cockroaches to avoid neural damage.
The team wired the microcontroller to the roach’s antenna and cerci. Cerci are sensory organs on the abdomen of the roach used to detect movement in the air to indicate a predator is approaching. The wires attached to the cerci spur the bugs into motion by tricking them into thinking a predator is sneaking up. Wires attached to the antennae inject small electrical charges into the Bug’s neural tissue tricking it into thinking that the antennae are in contact with a barrier, steering them in the opposite direction.

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