Farmers may one day spray vitamins, not pesticides, to zap the insects and diseases that attack plants. At least that's the view of researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who say plants treated with vitamins C or E have a dramatically improved ability to resist insects and diseases.
It turns out that vitamins can "trick" plant cells into responding as if the plant is under more stress than it actually is. This stimulates the cells to produce more of their own pest- and disease-fighting chemicals. In field and laboratory work, entomologist Dale M. Norris found that elms and ashes treated with vitamins had 40% to 60% less leaf damage due to gypsy moths and bark beetles than trees that weren't given a vitamin boost. The vitamins paid similar dividends when fed to soybeans, snap beans, and sweet corn.
Given the rising concern over environmental damage caused by agricultural chemicals, natural and nonpolluting vitamins could have a big future, says Norris. Indeed, FDP Associates, a Madison technology development firm, has already licensed the rights to this approach to pest control in plants.