A common plant virus lures aphids to infected plants by making the plants more attractive, but when the insects taste the plant, they quickly leave for tastier, healthier ones. In the process, the insects rapidly transmit the disease, according to Penn State entomologists. This type of host alteration has implications beyond agriculture. If pathogens can alter hosts to make transmission more efficient, they may be doing it in insect-transmitted human diseases, such as malaria or dengue fever.
An invasion of soybean aphids poses a problem for soybean farmers requiring application of pesticides, but a team of Penn State entomologists thinks a careful choice of nitrogen-fixing bacteria may provide protection against the sucking insects.
She's part pilgrim and part vampire, purplish black and pear-shaped. Moments after her April birth, the aphid creeps along the smooth witch hazel leaf until she finds a suitable intersection of veins. She thrusts her needle mouth into the junction and begins to feed, sucking the sweet sap from the plant.