The Smithsonian has a cool blog post about using satellite images to track insect damage to trees over time. Increasing temperatures (especially increasing winter temperatures) and drought conditions have led to outbreaks of bark beetles like the mountain pine beetle throughout the western U.S., causing widespread damage to millions of acres of forest. As large swaths of trees are killed by the beetles, they become a fire hazard. Scientists are using the satellite images to track patterns of insect outbreaks and correlate them with weather patterns.
Robots that can detect and track odors such as gas leaks or environmental spills could become increasingly useful in the future, and insects are a useful model for such robots. Scientists from the University of Tokyo have built a small moth-driven robot to study how moths detect pheromones (chemical signals). By understanding the neurological and behavioral processes by which a moth detects and tracks down an odor, their goal is to eventually build a robot “brain” that can track odors as well as the moth. They have recently published their findings in the Journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.
The FDA has recently approved a new flu vaccine called Flublok. This vaccine is unique because it is grown inside insect cells from the fall armyworm moth rather than in chicken eggs. This vaccine can be produced more quickly than traditional vaccines. It can be used by people who are allergic to eggs and doesn’t include thimerosal, which contains mercury.