One of the painfulscourges faced when I grew Christmas trees on the Blake family farm in Mississippi was the tenacious fire ant. The sharppainfrom the fire ant venom injected into the ankle or hands generated yellsthrough the vocal chords and many hours of misery.
Now, the same venom that brings growers and others to their knees may be a blessing in disguise for commercial agriculture.
Studies by USDA scientists in Stoneville, Miss. suggest that two alkaloid compounds in the ant venom - piperideines and piperdines – can in fact hinder the growth of the crop pathogen Pythium ultimum.
This pathogen decays plant seeds and seedlings of vegetable, horticultural, and cucurbit crops. Fungicide, delayed planting, and crop rotation are among the current methods to control P. ultimum.
USDA Agricultural Research Service(ARS) entomologist Jian Chenis co-investigating the potential application of fire ant venom to manage soilborne pathogens, including P. ultimum, in collaboration with ARS microbiologist Xixuan Jin, and Shezeng Li of the Institute of Plant Protection, Baoding, China.
Using complicated extraction techniques, the researchers gleanedpurified amounts of piperideine and piperidine from the venom glands of red and black imported fire ants. The ants are invasive (and painful) pests across 320 million acres plus in the South and other areas.
First reported in the December 2012 issue of Pest Management Science, ARS says the findings signalsignificant reductions in the growth and germination of the pathogen's mycelium.
These findings could open the door to other solutions to pathogen-created issues in other farming areas.
Read moreabout this research in the August 2013 Agricultural Research magazine.
In the meantime, don’t don the party hatsor toot the horns quite yet.
Wear boots and stay clearof fire ant beds.