Science  17 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6168, pp. 235

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  1. Parasite Quells Locusts' Urge to Swarm

    Locusta migratoria


    What turns a single, harmless locust into an apocalyptic, crop-destroying swarm? Scientists know that pheromones in a locust's feces signal neighbors to assemble by the billions. But new research shows how a gut parasite can disrupt this signal, potentially sparing crops.

    In 2004, entomologist Wangpeng Shi of China Agricultural University in Beijing noticed that migratory locusts infected by the sporing microbe Paranosema locustae were less likely to swarm than their healthy counterparts.

    To explore this effect, Shi and colleagues placed healthy locusts in chambers containing infected locust droppings. Sure enough, the exposed locusts were significantly less likely to swarm than those exposed to scat from uninfected locusts, the researchers report this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The infected feces contained fewer swarm-inducing pheromones, and a look into the locusts' guts revealed why: The parasite acidifies its host's intestines, sub duing the bacteria responsible for creating the pheromones. Countries fighting locust infestations could one day replicate P. locustae's swarm-stopping tricks, the researchers say.