How Bugs Become Instantly Resistant to Insecticide by Swallowing Bacteria
In a time when it's undeniable that super weeds and super bugs are growing resistant to the herbicides and pesticides used to treat genetically modified (GM) seeds and crops, Japanese scientists have discovered that at least one bug's belly knows exactly what to do when it encounters an insecticide.
Scientists have learned that bacteria in the bean bug's belly not only can break down and detoxify killer chemicals, but can actually immunize the bug and protect it from that poison in the future.
Resistance is Instantaneous
It's generally thought that the process of insects evolving resistance to insecticides takes many generations. But in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,i researchers have revealed that the bean bug, which is a common pest on soybean crops, does so instantly.
These insects have a special organ in their guts that holds up to 100 million special microbes called Burkholderia bacteria. These bacteria rise in number in fields treated with the insecticide fenitrothion, and the bugs subsequently eat them. The bacteria then act as a natural shield to the insecticide, as they are able to break down the chemical, rendering it harmless to the insects.
It was thought that the Burkholderia bacteria were too rare to make much of an impact, but the researchers found they actually increase rapidly in soil treated with fenitrothion. In fact, Burkholderia bacteria numbers rose from undetectable to comprising more than 80 percent of soil bacteria counts after experimental applications of fenitrothion to field soils, and this was in just one month.
The researchers also noted that more than 90 percent of the bugs raised in the enriched soil established the fenitrothion-degrading Burkholderia bacteria in their gut.
This, of course, is devastating news for the farmers who depend on insecticides to keep their crops salvageable, but it is generally written in the law of nature that...
What Doesn't Kill You Will Only Make You Stronger...
When the land is doused with a single herbicide or insecticide for years on end, the ecosystem adapts, plain and simple. By attempting to forcibly eliminate insects from the environment with chemicals, the process backfires because the insects evolve to resist them and end up even stronger than ever.
It's sort of like exercise or other forms of stress... if it doesn't kill you it will only make you stronger. This is exactly what's been happening with the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and now it's happening with insects and weeds, too.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, and has been used in massive quantities on all Roundup-ready crops since their inception. As a result, glyphosate-resistant "superweeds" are getting out of control, driving out their non-resistant counterparts.
An estimated 130 different types of weeds spanning 40 U.S. states and 15 million acres are now resistant to the herbicide, and these superweeds are spreading at a rapid pace. Extremely hardy Roundup-resistant weeds are now boosting costs and cutting crop yields for farmers across the United States.
Compounding the problem is that farmers are resorting to ever higher amounts of herbicides and more toxic varieties in an effort to keep these superweeds in check, but all that does is create ever increasing resistance.
The same goes for crops genetically engineered to control certain pests, such as the Bt cotton sold under the trade name "Bollgard" in India. It was designed to control the Bollworm, but today, the insect has become resistant to the Bt cotton. This is bad news for the 80 to 90 percent of soybean farmers, and probably other GM crop farmers, whose livelihoods are dependent on genetically engineered seeds that come with insecticides implanted in their DNA.
Bt crops appear particularly prone to create "super pests" as they contain added genes for Bt toxins that allow the plants to produce their own insecticides. (This Bt toxin, by the way, has now been found circulating in the blood of pregnant women and fetuses.)
Because the plants release the toxin continuously, pests can evolve resistance to it. Making matters worse, other beneficial insects like bees and Monarch butterflies may be negatively impacted by the massive use of toxic chemicals, and the resistance is only causing even more toxic chemicals to be sprayed on crops.
For instance, Monsanto has rolled out "Bollgard II" that is supposed to control the Bollworms resistant to the original "Bollgard." And as reported by the Global Citizens' Report on the State of GMOs:ii
"The primary justification for the genetic engineering of Bt into crops is that this will reduce the use of insecticides. Bt cotton is among the 'miracles' being pushed by corporations like Monsanto as a solution to the pesticide crisis. One of the Monsanto brochures had a picture of a few worms and stated, "You will see these in your cotton and that's O.K. Don't spray."
However, in Texas, Monsanto faced a lawsuit filed by 25 farmers over Bt cotton planted on 18,000 acres which suffered cotton bollworm damage and on which farmers had to use pesticides in spite of corporate propaganda that genetic engineering meant an end to the pesticide era."
Bacterial Bonanza: How They Actually Keep You Alive
It may sound surprising that bacteria, of all things, could be rendering bugs instantaneously immune to insecticides that would otherwise kill them. But it's becoming very clear that microflora – a term used to describe the bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes that make up your microbial inner ecosystem – impact far more than your digestive tract, and this is true not only of insects but also in humans.
Microorganisms are crucial to your health. Researchers have compared them to "a newly recognized organ" and found they may play key roles in the development of cancer, asthma, allergies, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and even brain, behavioral and emotional problems like ADHD, autism and depression.
Did you know there are tiny living organisms in your body numbering in the trillions? That's right. From serving as pathways for vitamin production to digesting parts of food, trillions of microbes live on, and in, your body, working to keep you alive.
If you think that's incredible, then note this factoid: as reported by 90.9 WBUR, Jeffrey Gordon, a professor at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, says there are 10 times more microbial cells in our bodies than there are human cells! That means we're 90 percent microbial, and 10 percent human. What's more, there are also 100 times more microbial genes in our bodies than genes in our entire human genome.
If you want to dig into the research, check out the Human Microbiome Project (HMP),iii whose goal is to characterize microbial communities found at multiple human body sites and to look for correlations between changes in the microbiome and human health. There you can find 15 demonstration projects looking into the role of microflora and conditions like psoriasis, Crohn's disease, obesity, acne and more.
These microbes play an important role in your very survival, so it makes perfect sense that they would impart the same survival benefits to insects as well...
What's the Solution to Super Pests?
Pesticides, herbicides and insecticides are rarely if ever, 100 percent effective. Over time, pesticides are virtually guaranteed to become ineffective because pests develop resistance to them. Most farmers and other growers became familiar with pesticide resistance back in the 1950s, as a result of widespread insect resistance to DDT. Since then, growers have come to expect the eventual loss of pesticide effectiveness because of resistance. By the mid-1980s, there were records of about 450 resistant species of insects and mites.
When pests do become resistant, more virulent and dangerous pesticides are rolled out to address the resistance, causing greater human and environmental damage. It is estimated that addressing the pest resistance costs the government at least $1.5 billion annually.iv
So the risks of dousing virtually all U.S. food crops in toxic pesticides are steep... especially when there are far less toxic options available. At the forefront of this area is Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a program of prevention, monitoring and control that can eliminate or drastically reduce the need for synthetic pesticides and insecticides.
What makes IPM different is that there is no one program. Rather, it works by utilizing a variety of methods, including sanitation, structural repairs, mechanical and living biological controls and other non-chemical methods to control pests. Prevention is also key, and preventive measures are used as a primary means of pest control in IPM.
If there's still a problem after the non-chemical options have been exhausted, then only the least toxic pesticides, such as boric acid, diatomaceous earth, or those made with essential oils, are used.
Currently there is no way to identify foods that are grown using IPM practices, but generally you can assume that most conventionally grown produce, and certainly virtually all GM crops, are NOT using these beneficial strategies. Many organic farmers or those who subscribe to the permaculture or biodynamic methods of farming will be, however, so support these sources when buying your food as much as possible.
- iProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences April 23, 2012
- ii Global Citizens' Report on the State of GMOs
- iii Human Microbiome Project, National Institutes of Health
- iv Cornell University, Pesticide Impact on the Environment