Researchers have developed synthetic hormones that disrupt the winter sleep of the corn earworm, an insect that ravages crops in the United States, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The new technique could be used to control the agricultural pest without relying on traditional pesticides.
When it gets cold, the adult corn earworm typically burrows underground for an extended winter slumber called diapause, which enables them to survive the frosty weather. The new compounds mimic the hormones that control diapause, causing the insects to stay forever trapped in sleep, awaken prematurely in the dead of winter, or never enter it in the first place. As a result, they may be more vulnerable to frigid weather conditions and die off.
The new method could one day be used to control a wide range of pests. One possibility, the researchers note, is to create transgenic plants that express the synthetic hormones.