The key to locust swarming behavior is a specific chemical signal. Image Credit: Arpingstone
By identifying the chemical signal that triggers swarms to form, it may be possible to stop swarming entirely.
For thousands of years, vast swarms of locusts have remained the bane of civilization - huge clouds of insects capable of mowing through entire fields in mere minutes, resulting in severe food shortages.
But what if it were possible to use modern science to put a stop to locust swarms once and for all ?
In a new study, scientists have identified the chemical signal that the insects excrete to trigger swarming behavior, a substance known as 4-vinylanisole (4VA).
This chemical is particularly powerful and works on even small groups of only a few insects.
It is hoped that it may be possible to use a synthesized version of 4VA to lure locusts into traps, or to produce a genetically modified locust that does not respond to it at all.
These non-swarming insects could then be gradually introduced to replace the existing populations.
"In human history, locust plagues, drought and flood were considered as three major natural disasters which caused serious agricultural and economic losses all over the world," said lead researcher Le Kang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Zoology.
"As the most widely distributed and one of the most dangerous locust species, the migratory locust represents a serious threat to agriculture worldwide."