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Mayo Clinic study could lead to safer pesticides

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Each year millions of dollars in crops are lost to two insects notorious for devastating farms: the greenbug (Schizaphis graminum) and the English grain aphid (Sitobion avenae). Although these tiny green insects are 1/16th of an inch long, they are heavyweights in the farm industry. In 2005, the Department of Agriculture reported that $100 million in crops were lost in six states to these pests.

In a new study in the October issue of Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters, a Mayo Clinic researcher has published work that opens the door to the possibility of creating safer pesticides to control the greenbug and English grain aphid in crop farms. The key, according to the study's author, Yuan-Ping Pang, Ph.D., director of Mayo Clinic's Computer-Aided Molecular Design Laboratory, was in identifying an insect-specific enzyme that could be used as a direct target for a new insecticide that would not affect humans and animals. The research was done with the support of a powerful terascale supercomputer Dr. Pang designed to develop a three-dimensional model of an enzyme taken from the two insects. (Terascale refers to a computer so powerful it can perform one trillion operations per second.)

"We now have a blueprint that will enable the development of a new generation of pesticides that will not be toxic to humans. Ultimately, the idea would be that we would be able to eat apples without washing them -- even though it may be covered with pesticides," says Dr. Pang.

Greenbugs are found in North, Central and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Aphids have been present since 1912 in southern Europe, central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Greenbugs are the most damaging of aphids because they suck plant juices and inject a toxin into the plant during the process, Dr. Pang says. The toxin causes more injury than the actual physical injury made by greenbugs.

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Contact: Amy Reyes
newsbureau@mayo.edu
507-284-5005
Mayo Clinic
12-Oct-2006


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