What is biological control for termites

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The biologist Prof. Dr. Dino McMahon is researching a way to stop wood-destroying termites entirely without poison: with a glucose molecule.

Dr. McMahon, down here, in a warm and humid BAM cellar, is a real kingdom for you. Why?

There are excellent colonies of termites - arguably the best in the world. Some of the trunks are very old. An entomologist can only cheer.

What are you going to do?

I can help myself from the fund. There are almost 30 species of termites behind those iron doors, that's great. For example, my PhD student and I take a few animals from a certain tribe and then we observe how they treat each other on a small scale.

Do you research social behavior? Shouldn't it be about stopping termites' voraciousness in the first place?

Yes, that's exactly what we want. It's just that we're going a completely new way. So far, termites have only been fought with pesticides. These poisons are contained in wood preservatives. So many termites are kept in the BAM to check the effectiveness of the remedies. As evolutionary biologists, however, we are now trying to proceed entirely without poison. We disrupt the animals' immune system with a molecule, the glucose derivative GDL.

What does GDL do?

It fits exactly to a certain protein, to the receptor of the immune system. The protein is crucial for termites, it makes up the defenses of an entire colony. The termites build it into their nests. Now let's do our experiments with small groups. We add animals infected with the immune blocker GDL. We record what the group is doing. There are many changes in behavior as we now know. There is much to suggest that termites weaken and die.

So that would be a purely ecological pest control ...

... and really a great benefit for the environment. Poisons from wood preservatives would no longer get into the soil. After all, termites eat the hardest underground. The wooden components have to be specially protected, they are treated heavily. We are close to our goal of achieving this without pesticides and biocides.

Would this also be an inexpensive way?

Most certainly. I'll be researching it at least until 2020, as long as I'll be a junior professor at BAM and the Free University of Berlin. At the moment we are doing our first big field test, also here in the basement: We have buried a piece of wood in 36 separate beds, each protected in different ways with GDL. There are 1000 termites in each bed, animals of different species. We watch the whole thing for ten months. We brought in a few wild termite colonies from France. Even here there weren't enough animals for such a major project.