Pesticides are a cornerstone of modern agriculture, but they can wreak environmental havoc. The chemicals wash into streams, kill beneficial bugs, and eventually fail when insects develop resistance to them. So scientists are searching for new ways to fight voracious pests. At the Agriculture Dept.'s Agricultural Research Service lab in Peoria, researchers have perfected one promising approach.
The idea is simple: Mix insecticides with starch or corn flour to produce tiny, gooey lumps. Unlike pesticides that quickly wash off the plants they are supposed to protect, these sticky granules "will adhere to foliage even in a rainstorm," says Michael McGuire, an Agriculture Dept. researcher. As a result, farmers will need to spray far less of the chemical on their fields--and less will run off to pollute groundwater or rivers. In addition, scientists can add insect attractants to the mixture, so the pesticide will act as a bait, making it even more effective. So far, Dow Chemical, American Cyanamid, and Ecogen have agreed to license the method.