Archive for March, 2011

Om nom nom

Not only is the title of this post a common greeting in my household, it accurately suggests something delicious.  At least in most cases.  While providing nourishment and pleasure for some (e.g. deep dish pizza from The Nines), food can also be the way to kill a bug, particularly those pesky plant eating insects.

Plant defense and insect offense: same story, new insights.  This cycle, known as a co-evolutionary arms race, goes something like this: insect herbivores consume plant matter; plants don’t want to get eaten so they find a way to defend themselves; insects retaliate and find a way to overcome these plant defenses; plants evolve a new mechanism; repeat indefinitely along an extended evolutionary timescale.  And the escalation is riveting!

So how does it work?  In this study, researchers focused on tomato plants and caterpillars.  They found an enzyme specific to tomato and other Solanaceous plants that is activated only in the gut of caterpillars.  The enzyme breaks down a key nutrient needed for caterpillar growth.  And the caterpillars essentially starve to death, wah wah wah.

Poor little dudes, but they keep eating my tomatoes…conundrum!

Tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta

***Editor’s note***
Serious Eats has just informed me that “nom nom” has been officially recognized in the Oxford English Dictionary.


It seems an odd pair of events to bring together: the death of the great entomologist Tom Eisner and the beginning of a new entomology blog.

Tom Eisner was a world renowned and respected scientist known for his pioneering efforts in insect chemical ecology.  His achievements are manifold and his influence immeasurable.  His book, For Love of Insects, was given to me recently by a good friend and former post-doc in my department.  What a great way to remember a monumental member of my academic community.

But with every death there is new life.

So I’m jumping into the blogosphere inspired by uncanny insects, biological mysteries, natural wonders, and food system complexity.  Just as spring pokes its way through blooming tulips here in Ithaca.