It’s the curse of pesticides: They kill more than just pests. Yesterday, I wrote a story about how beekeepers in the Worcester area are concerned over plans to use a common grub killer to beat back a tree beetle infestation because it is toxic to bees.
A more natural way to control termites? (Globe file photo)
But at Northeastern University, a team of researchers are meeting success with a more natural form of critter control.
Rebeca Rosengaus, an associate professor of biology along with former Northeastern postdoctoral fellow Mark Bulmer and a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have figured out a way to potentially control termites with using nothing more than a type of sugar molecule.
Here’s how: The researchers knew that a tropical termite species can survive despite living in bacteria and fungus ridden nests. It turns out, the scientists discovered, the termite saliva and fecal matter contain a protein that destroys those bacteria and fungi.
But if researchers fed termites a glucose derivative, known as GDL, it inhibited the fungus-fighting proteins. Termites fed GDL in a lab died five days after being exposed to a fungus while 70 percent of those not fed GDL and exposed were still alive 12 days later. Their work was reported recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
One day, such an approach could be used to combat the $30 billion in damages that termites cause to homes, businesses and crops each year. Today, termites are often fought with chemicals that can spread to waterways and into living organisms. Rosengaus will continue experimenting with the molecule, especially in urban areas where termites are a particular problem.
“We’re far away from saying this is the future of pest control,’’ she said. “But it seems a very appealing alternative strategy.”
About the green blog
Helping Boston live a greener, more environmentally friendly life.
Christopher Reidy covers business for the Globe.
Doug Struck covers environmental issues from Boston.
Glenn Yoder produces Boston.com's Lifestyle pages.
Eric Bauer is site architect of Boston.com.
Bennie DiNardo is the Boston Globe's deputy managing editor/multimedia.
Dara Olmsted is a local sustainability professional focusing on green living.