How do you improve crop yields without actually improving crop yields? Control rodents that are eating grain in the fields.
This is exactly what Dr. Loretta Mayer and her graduate student Heidi Miers intend to do with a chemical called VCD (4-vinylcyclohexene diepoxide), commonly used in tires, polyesters and plastics. VCD basically degrades ovaries, similar to how the ovaries degrade during menopause – hence “mouseopause”. Simply place VCD bait stations in fields, rodents eat the bait, then the female rodents are unable to reproduce.
Most rodenticides are horrible chemicals that cause painful deaths and are equally horrible when accidentally consumed by humans. Any method that removes these chemicals from the environment should be strongly considered. Another possible application of VCD would be cheap, humane control of animals like cats, dogs, and deer. This would allow for population control of these animals without expensive sterilization or repeated birth control treatments, and without inhumane and costly slaughter and disposal of unwanted animals.
It all sounds great, but I have a lot of qualms about the actual implementation of this research! First, what if endangered rodent species eat the bait? It could lead to extinctions. What if the tablets dissolve and release VCD into the water that is then used by locals for drinking and cooking? What if children or adults are not properly educated about the bait stations and then eat the bait? What if women hear about what the bait does and eat it on purpose? There are a lot of potential problems.
Even though I think there are very real concerns involved with this work – I don’t think the research or implementation should be stopped – there just need to be very strong safeguards along, as there should be with any chemical or technology that will be released into the environment. The potential gain of 10% more rice harvests may outweigh the risk of the VPD being consumed by non-target organisms. What do you think?
Source: Discovery Could Help Feed Millions via Newswise.
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Anastasia is Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes!