To Beat A Parasite, Confuse It

CORNFIELDS ACROSS THE country are showing off their green and golden splendor. Hidden underground, however, are the ravages of a billion-dollar blight called rootworm. Pesticides are the standard solution. But researchers at Colorado State University think there is a better, more environmentally friendly way to deal with the parasites: Befuddle them.

The scientists' idea hinges on the recent discovery that rootworm larvae navigate to food sources by detecting the carbon dioxide that corn roots emit. If the larvae don't make it to the roots within 24 hours of hatching, they die. So entomology professor Louis B. Bjostad and his colleagues turned to two ingredients familiar to bakers everywhere: yeast and sodium bicarbonate. The researchers concocted separate recipes of baking soda and yeast, chemically primed to release CO2. Then they tested each one on separate small plots of land. Both recipes produced enough CO2 to steer the larvae away from the roots, causing them to starve. The scientists are planning more extensive trials on larger tracts of land.

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