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Researchers find a chemical that makes locusts swarm

Enlarge (credit: NOAA)

The year 2020 may be one for the record books in terms of apocalyptic tidings. In addition to the usual background of fires, floods, and earthquakes, the plague is still around. And you might have heard something about a pandemic. But what really nails down the apocalyptic vibe is the fact that the year has seen swarms of locusts causing the sorts of problems they’re famous for.

In a tiny bit of good news, the same sort of research that may bail us out with therapies and a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 could potentially help us out against future locust swarms. That’s because a team of biologists based in China has now identified the chemical that calls locusts to swarm and shown that genetic engineering can eliminate the response.

A lot of evidence

There’s nothing especially exciting about any single aspect of the research here. Instead, the researchers simply put together techniques from a variety of specializations and then applied them to the topic of locust swarms. Locusts are normally solitary animals, but they become immensely destructive when conditions induce them to form massive swarms that are big enough to be picked up by radar. In addition to the altered behavior, swarming locusts actually look physically different, indicating that the decision to swarm involves widespread changes to a locust’s biology.

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