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Honey Bees Armed With Virus That Kills Corn Earworm

February 21, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ When honey bees leave their hives at a Tifton, Ga., research laboratory, their tiny feet are dusted with a virus-laden talc before they fly off in search of the day’s nectar supply.

The virus doesn’t hurt the bees. Rather, the bees are unwitting couriers delivering a knockout punch to corn earworm larvae in the nearby fields of crimson clover.

Clover is one of the main host plants for the earworm. Moths lay their eggs on the clover, ``and that first generation develops on those and then it goes on to corn where it’s a more serious pest,″ said John Hamm, research entomologist at USDA’s Insect Biology and Population Management Research Laboratory in Tifton, Ga.

``The population really explodes in corn,″ where it hides under the husk while it devours the ear, he said. ``That population that develops in corn then goes on to cotton, soybeans and peanuts,″ causing even more damage.

``What we’re trying to do is hit them in that earlier generation when there are smaller numbers to control,″ Hamm said.

The test program has succeeded in killing 74 percent to 87 percent of the corn earworm larvae in the clover fields, he said.

In the experiment, hives are rigged with a device that forces bees leaving the hive to walk through a pan where their feet and legs are coated with talc mixed with a naturally occurring virus.

Each time one of the dusted bees stops at a flower, some of the virus gets rubbed onto the blossoms. When one of the susceptible pests stops by, it is infected with the virus and dies.

Other researchers have been experimenting with bees in the same way, Hamm said.

In South Carolina, scientists are trying to use honey bees to carry microorganisms that inhibit the development of another microorganism that damages strawberries.

In Utah, bees are being used to carry a microorganism deadly to the pathogen that causes a disease of fruit trees called fire blight.


WASHINGTON (AP) _ Seven members of the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board have been reappointed by Acting Agriculture Secretary Richard Rominger.

They are: Arthur J. Pappathanasi, Lynn, Mass., region 1; C. Scott Mayfield Jr., Athens, Tenn., region 4; Jeffrey Lee Koehler, DePere, Wis., region 7; Patrick R. Beaman, Dallas, region 10; James T. Wilcox Jr., Roy, Wash., region 13; Robert W. Allen, Columbus, Ohio, at-large member; and Robert E. Baker, Deerfield, Ill., general public member.

The board has 15 members from geographic regions and five at-large members. At least three members must be fluid milk processors and at least one must be from the general public.

The milk program was established in 1990 to increase demand for fluid milk products. It is financed by an assessment of 20 cents per hundredweight on all fluid milk processed and marketed commercially in consumer-type packages in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. Processors who handle less than 500,000 pounds per month are exempt from the fees.

The program is monitored by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

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