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Scientists identify mysterious new species that could revolutionize agriculture: 'Something out of a James Cameron movie'

"This is exciting because the discovery adds another insect killer that could teach us new and interesting biology."

"This is exciting because the discovery adds another insect killer that could teach us new and interesting biology."

Photo Credit: UC Riverside

A newly discovered species is sparking optimism among scientists who are looking for ways to protect our crops without toxic chemicals and make agriculture more resilient to a changing climate

As detailed on the SciTechDaily platform, the species in question is a nematode — basically a type of worm. First identified in the 1920s, per the report, the family of nematodes the new species belongs to are already important for pest control in agriculture, but scientists have taken interest in them because some are more resilient to certain conditions than others. 

While there are thousands of types of nematodes, this particular one isn't easily noticed by humans, as it is about "half the width of a human hair." However, scientists at the University of California Riverside believe this tiny creature could help unlock a commercially viable, sustainable pest control solution in hotter regions and offer many valuable insights.

"The biology of this animal is absolutely fascinating. Aside from its obvious applications for alleviating human suffering caused by pest insects, it also has much to teach us about the ecological and evolutionary processes involved in the complex negotiations that take place between parasites, pathogens, their hosts, and their environmental microbiomes," Brigham Young University biology department chair Byron Adams said, per SciTechDaily. 

The newly named nematode, which was dubbed "Steinernema adamsi," or S. adamsi, after Adams, operates like other types.

UCR nematology professor Adler Dillman, whose lab discovered the new worm, explained, per SciTechDaily, that nematodes kill the insects they infect by releasing "highly pathogenic bacteria" that "essentially [liquefy]" their hosts.

"A parasite that poops out pathogenic stuff to help kill its host — that's unusual right out of the gate. It's like something out of a James Cameron movie," he said. 

Scientists at UC Riverside now plan to look into whether the S. adamsi is resistant to higher temperatures, UV radiation, and dry conditions — which could become increasingly important amid a warming planet.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pests destroy anywhere from 20% to 40% of all crops worldwide every year, and there have been concerns about insect-induced food shortages if our planet continues to overheat. 

Dirty energy is the primary culprit causing the rise of global temperatures that has allowed insects to more effectively multiply and/or increase their ranges, but chemical pesticides also significantly contribute to the issue. 

More research needs to be done on S. adamsi nematodes — now described in the Journal of Parasitology — to determine how they could best help our crops, but small quantities of them have already been observed eliminating test moths in only two days, per SciTechDaily. 

"This is exciting because the discovery adds another insect killer that could teach us new and interesting biology. Also they're from a warm, humid climate that could make them a good parasite of insects in environments where currently, commercially available orchard nematodes have been unable to flourish," Dillman said, according to the news platform.

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