Golden Gate [X]press : Researchers abuzz for wasps as pesticides

In the biology department, an assistant professor sits in front of a continuous screen of green letters reminiscent of scenes from "The Matrix."

He is analyzing the gene sequences of wasps –wasps that are being used as an alternative to chemical pest controls in agriculture.

The wasp, Nasonia vitripennis, is being used as a form of chemical-free pest control "whose larvae parasitize various life stages of other arthropods such as insects, ticks and mites," according to a paper published Jan. 15 in "Science."

"In the 1950s, they didn’t know about these wasps, so they used chemicals," Christopher Smith, an SF State associate professor on the project, said. "Now, agriculture chemicals sterilize water systems and kill arthropods. Even household pesticides are a big problem –they reduce biodiversity in the ecosystem."

Parasitoids like the wasp are used nationally and are bred to attack pests that negatively affect agricultural crops.

"It’s where the frontier of science is at right now. When I was in grad school, there were no genomes," Smith said.

Smith is one of a team of researchers contributing to a larger study on the wasps. p>

His job is to receive the insect’s genome, then sequence and analyze the DNA he gets on the computer.