Killing them with sexual confusion
On Earth, Winter 2012/2013

A new breed of insecticides is taking a novel approach to controlling disease-carrying, crop-destroying pests: sexually frustrating the bugs to death. While previous efforts have focused on annihilation via poison, success is usually short-lived as the animals become resistant to even the strongest insecticides. “While [the pests] wait for us to develop even stronger poisons, surely they must chuckle to themselves as all the evidence of negative environmental and health consequences pile up,” according to the current issue of On Earth. The magazine, published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, reports that scientists can now replicate insects’ sex pheromones, chemicals that convey messages related to mating. The synthetic pheromones, called semiochemicals, can alter or interrupt the mating messages, bewildering a male tomato pinworm “to the point of impotence,” for example. “He doesn’t know with whom to mate and he dies a bachelor — whereupon the pinworm population quickly subsides, and the tomato harvest flourishes.” This “cold shower” approach is believed to be safer than chemical-laden assaults, according to Allard Cosse, an entomologist at the Department of Agriculture. The synthetic pheromones are being tested by commercial developers such as ISCA Technologies, which has developed a system it calls Specialized Pheromone and Lure Application Technology — or SPLAT.

How to think like Sherlock Holmes
“Mastermind” by Maria Konnikova

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character renowned for his powers of thought and observation, spoke these words in “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Sure, Holmes had a keen intellect, but his success as a detective was more than just a gift of imaginary genetics or luck. Holmes practiced mindfulness — a psychological state that involves purposefully paying attention with all one’s senses to a specific moment, person, object or situation. In “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes,” psychologist Maria Konnikova writes that anyone can tap into Holmes’s abilities. Based on modern neuroscience and psychology, the book explores Holmes’s aptitude for mindfulness, logical thinking and observation. Konnikova shares strategies that can lead to clearer thinking and habits that can help people become more self-aware and engaged with others. She suggests taking off the headphones while walking to work, for example, or putting your phone away while eating dinner. Elementary, right?

New type of insecticides aims to control pests by frustrating their sexual impulses. (Bigstock/Bigstock)

Maggie Fazeli Fard