Ancient Chinese Biotechnology Could Bear Fruit In Africa

Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark have embarked on a pilot project that draws upon ancient Chinese biotechnology. The project, funded by a 1.3-million-euro ($1.73 million) grant from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), aims to use tiny, six-legged “guard dogs” to protect fruit and nut crops from insect pests – and cut down the use of pesticides in the process.

For centuries, Chinese farmers have encouraged Weaver Ants to set up colonies in their orchards. The ants are extremely aggressive and will attack fruit flies and other insect species that intrude on their territory. According to Mogens Gissel Nielsen, Associate Professor in Biological Sciences at Aarhus University who is managing the weaver ant project, “It's very difficult to use conventional methods to kill these fruit flies, but it looks like they can be scared away by the ants.”

African farmers who raise mangoes, cashews and other tree-growing cash crops depend on pesticides to control insect pests that would otherwise decimate their crops. Unfortunately, this practice prevents them from gaining access to the lucrative organic fruit market in the United States and the European Community. The Aarhus University project will refine the use of weaver ant colonies as a viable, sustainable biological pest control method in the African nations of Benin and Tanzania. Low-income farmers in these nations will receive an additional benefit from the ants – they're edible!

“It's a high protein source that you can harvest in an area where there is low protein available,” explained Nielsen. Weaver ant eggs are considered a delicacy in East Asian nations like Thailand... sounds like a novel way to “pad” your Pad Thai! (via Xinhua News Agency, main image via Corbis)


*** UPDATED on May 26th, 2015 ***