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calendar   Saturday - February 22, 2020

GMO Zombie Fungus To The Rescue?

Genetically Modified Chinese Rice Fungus Might Stop Locust Plague across Africa And Middle East

How’s that for a green revolution?

Chinese factories are producing thousands of tonnes of a “green zombie fungus” to help fight the swarms of locusts plaguing east Africa.

Metarhizium is a genus of fungi with nearly 50 species – some genetically modified – that is used as a biological insecticide because its roots drill through the insects’ hard exoskeleton and gradually poisons them.

In China it was named lu jiang jun, which means green zombie fungus, because it gradually turns its victims in a green mossy lump.

There are now dozens of factories across the country dedicated to producing its spores and despite the curbs introduced to stop the spread of Covid-19, many of them have resumed operations and are shipping thousands of tonnes to Africa.

These factories are set up in a similar way to breweries, growing the spores on rice which is kept in carefully controlled conditions to ensure the correct temperature and humidity.

Each plant can produce thousands of tonnes of fungi powder per year, each gram of which contains tens of billions of spores.

“I am sending off a truckload right now. Our stock is running out,” said the marketing manager of a production plant in Jiangxi province. “Some customers need it urgently. They need it to kill the locusts.”

The need is particularly pressing in east Africa at the moment, where abnormally high levels of rainfall during the dry season allowed hundreds of billions of locusts to hatch in recent months.

So far the swarms have devastated crops in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda and are moving on to neighbouring countries.

One disadvantage of the Chinese research is that it is mostly focused on local species, or the East Asia migratory locust. The desert locusts currently swarming east Africa have different genes and behaviour, and Li warned that some methods that work in China might not work elsewhere.

No mention of any side effects. Fungus is pretty tough stuff, nearly as tenacious as mold and yeast. What happens when it gets into the soil and stays there forever? Will it kill every other insect in Africa, including the bees that pollinate crops? Or is this thing so specifically targeted that it only chews up locusts and grasshoppers? And then dies out when they’re gone, instead of mutating and surviving? Shades of Jurassic Park; “life will out”. 


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 02/22/2020 at 12:00 PM   
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