Parasitoid wasps kill pest insects, but their existence is largely unknown to the public. Now, scientists have sequenced the genomes of three parasitoid wasp species, revealing many features that could be useful in pest control and medicine, and in the enhancement of our understanding of genetics and evolution. "Parasitic wasps attack and kill pest insects, but many of them are smaller than the head of a pin, so people don't even notice them or know of their important role in keeping pest numbers down," said Dr. John Werren, from the University of Rochester, a co-leader of the study along with Dr. Stephen Richards of the Baylor College of Medicine. "There are over 600,000 species of these amazing critters, and we owe them a lot. If it weren't for parasitoids and other natural enemies, we would be knee-deep in pest insects.” Parasitoid wasp females are like "smart bombs" that seek out and kill only specific kinds of insects, said Dr. Werren. "Therefore, if we can harness their full potential, they would be vastly preferable to chemical pesticides, which broadly kill or poison many organisms in the environment, including us." Parasitoid wasps are four times smaller than the common fruit fly. The females seek out specific insect, tick, or mite hosts, inject venom and lay their eggs, with the wasp young emerging to devour the host insect; traits that make the wasps valuable assets as agents for biological control. Although their size is insignificant, the importance of parasitoid wasps in the control of populations of agricultural pests is crucial. Thanks to these insects billions of dollars’ worth of crops is saved each year.
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