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TEDxTelAviv 2010

Shimon Steinberg: Natural pest control ... using bugs!

April 26, 2010

Shimon Steinberg looks at the difference between pests and bugs -- and makes the case for using good bugs to fight bad bugs, avoiding chemicals in our quest for perfect produce. (Filmed at TEDxTelAviv.)

Shimon Steinberg - Entomologist
Shimon Steinberg's biotech lab researches ways to harness the natural benefits of insects on a massive scale. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I'm a bug lover, myself --
00:15
not from childhood, by the way,
00:17
but rather late.
00:19
When I bachelored,
00:21
majoring in zoology in Tel Aviv University,
00:23
I kind of fell in love with bugs.
00:26
And then, within zoology,
00:28
I took the course or the discipline of entomology,
00:30
the science of insects.
00:33
And then I thought, myself, how can I be practical
00:36
or help in the science of entomology?
00:39
And then I moved to the world of plant protection --
00:42
plant protection from insects,
00:45
from bad bugs.
00:48
And then within plant protection,
00:50
I came into the discipline
00:52
of biological pest control
00:54
which we actually define
00:56
as the use of living organisms
00:58
to reduce populations
01:01
of noxious plant pests.
01:03
So it's a whole discipline in plant protection
01:06
that's aiming at the reduction of chemicals.
01:09
And biological pest control, by the way,
01:13
or these good bugs that we are talking about,
01:15
they've existed in the world for thousands and thousands of years,
01:18
for a long, long time.
01:21
But only in the last 120 years
01:23
people started,
01:26
or people knew more and more how to exploit, or how to use,
01:29
this biological control phenomenon,
01:32
or in fact, natural control phenomenon,
01:35
to their own needs.
01:38
Because biological control phenomenon,
01:41
you can see it in your backyard.
01:43
Just take a magnifying glass. You see what I have here?
01:45
That's a magnifier times 10.
01:47
Yeah, times 10.
01:49
Just open it.
01:51
You just twist leaves, and you see a whole new world
01:53
of minute insects,
01:56
or little spiders of one millimeter, one and a half,
01:58
two millimeters long,
02:01
and you can distinguish between the good ones and the bad ones.
02:03
So this phenomenon of natural control
02:06
exists literally everywhere.
02:08
Here, in front of this building, I'm sure.
02:10
Just have a look at the plants.
02:12
So it's everywhere,
02:14
and we need to know how to exploit it.
02:16
Well let us go hand by hand
02:19
and browse through just a few examples.
02:21
What is a pest?
02:24
What damage [does] it actually inflict on the plant?
02:26
And what is the natural enemy,
02:29
the biologically controlled agent,
02:31
or the good bug, that we are talking about?
02:33
In general, I'm going to talk
02:35
about insects and spiders,
02:37
or mites, let us call them.
02:40
Insects, those six-legged organisms
02:43
and spiders or mites,
02:45
the eight-legged organisms.
02:47
Let's have a look at that.
02:49
Here is a pest, devastating pest, a spider mite,
02:51
because it does a lot of webbing like a spider.
02:54
You see the mother in between
02:57
and two daughters, probably on the left and right,
02:59
and a single egg on the right-hand side.
03:01
And then you see what kind of damage it can inflict.
03:04
On your right-hand side you can see a cucumber leaf,
03:06
and on the middle, cotton leaf,
03:08
and on the left a tomato leaf with these little stipplings.
03:10
They can literally turn from green to white
03:13
because of the sucking, piercing
03:16
mouthparts
03:18
of those spiders.
03:20
But here comes nature
03:22
that provides us with a good spider.
03:24
This is a predatory mite -- just as small as a spider mite, by the way,
03:26
one millimeter, two millimeters long, not more than that,
03:29
running quickly, hunting,
03:32
chasing the spider mites.
03:35
And here you can see this lady in action
03:37
on your left-hand side --
03:39
just pierces, sucks
03:41
the body fluids on the left-hand side of the pest mite.
03:43
And after five minutes, this is what you see:
03:46
just a typical dead corpse,
03:49
shriveled, sucked-out,
03:51
dead corpse of the spider mite,
03:53
and next to it, two satiated individuals
03:55
of predatory mites,
03:57
a mother on the left-hand side,
03:59
a young nymph on the right-hand side.
04:01
By the way, a meal for them for 24 hours
04:03
is about five individuals
04:06
of the spider mites, of the bad mites,
04:08
or 15 to 20 eggs
04:11
of the pest mites.
04:13
By the way, they are hungry always.
04:15
(Laughter)
04:18
And there is another example: aphids.
04:20
By the way, it's springtime now in Israel.
04:22
When temperature rises sharply,
04:24
you can see those bad ones, those aphids, all over the plants,
04:27
in your hibiscus, in your lantana,
04:30
in the young, fresh foliage
04:33
of the spring flush, so-called.
04:35
By the way, with aphids you have only females,
04:37
like Amazons.
04:39
Females giving rise to females giving rise to other females.
04:41
No males at all.
04:44
Parthenogenesis, [as it] was so called.
04:46
And they are very happy with that, apparently.
04:48
Here we can see the damage.
04:51
Those aphids secrete
04:53
some sticky, sugary liquid
04:55
called honeydew,
04:58
and this just globs
05:00
the upper parts of the plant.
05:02
Here you see a typical cucumber leaf
05:04
that turned actually from green to black
05:06
because of a black fungus, sooty mold,
05:08
which is covering it.
05:10
And here comes the salvation
05:12
through this parasitic wasp.
05:15
Here we are not talking about a predator.
05:18
Here we are talking a parasite --
05:20
not a two-legged parasite,
05:22
but an eight-legged parasite, of course.
05:24
This is a parasitic wasp,
05:27
again, two millimeters long, slender,
05:29
a very quick
05:31
and sharp flier.
05:33
And here you can see this parasite in action,
05:35
like in an acrobatic maneuver.
05:37
She stands vis-a-vis
05:40
in front of the victim at the right-hand side,
05:42
bending its abdomen
05:44
and inserting a single egg,
05:46
a single egg into the body fluids
05:48
of the aphid.
05:50
By the way, the aphid tries to escape.
05:52
She kicks and bites
05:55
and secretes different liquids,
05:57
but nothing will happen, in fact.
05:59
Only the egg of the parasite
06:01
will be inserted into the body fluids of the aphid.
06:03
And after a few days, depending upon temperature,
06:06
the egg will hatch
06:09
and the larva of this parasite
06:11
will eat the aphid from the inside.
06:13
This is all natural. This is all natural.
06:16
This is not fiction, nothing at all.
06:19
Again, in your backyard,
06:21
in your backyard.
06:23
But this is the end result.
06:26
This is the end result:
06:28
Mummies --
06:30
M-U-M-M-Y.
06:32
This is the visual result of a dead aphid
06:34
encompassing inside,
06:37
in fact, a developing parasitoid
06:39
that after a few minutes you see halfway out.
06:42
The birth is almost complete.
06:45
You can see, by the way, in different movies, etc.,
06:47
it takes just a few minutes.
06:50
And if this is a female, she'll immediately mate with a male
06:52
and off she goes because time is very short.
06:55
This female can live only three to four days,
06:58
and she needs to give rise
07:01
to around 400 eggs.
07:03
That means she has 400 bad aphids
07:05
to put her eggs
07:08
into their body fluids.
07:10
And this is of course not the end of it.
07:12
There is a whole wealth of other natural enemies
07:14
and this is just the last example.
07:16
Again, we'll start first with the pest:
07:18
the thrips.
07:20
By the way, all these weird names --
07:22
I didn't bother you with the Latin names of these creatures,
07:24
okay, just the popular names.
07:27
But this is a nice, slender,
07:29
very bad pest.
07:31
If you can see this, sweet peppers.
07:33
This is not just an exotic, ornamental sweet pepper.
07:35
This is a sweet pepper which is not consumable
07:38
because it is suffering from a viral disease
07:41
transmitted by those thrip adults.
07:44
And here comes the natural enemy,
07:47
minute pirate bug,
07:49
"minute" because it is rather small.
07:51
Here you can see the adult, black, and two young ones.
07:54
And again, in action.
07:57
This adult pierces the thrips,
07:59
sucking it within just several minutes,
08:02
just going to the other prey,
08:04
continuing all over the place.
08:06
And if we spread those minute pirate bugs, the good ones,
08:08
for example, in a sweet pepper plot,
08:12
they go to the flowers.
08:14
And look, this flower is flooded
08:17
with predatory bugs, with the good ones
08:19
after wiping out the bad ones, the thrips.
08:22
So this is a very positive situation, by the way.
08:25
No harm to the developing fruit. No harm to the fruit set.
08:28
Everything is just fine under these circumstances.
08:31
But again, the question is,
08:34
here you saw them on a one-to-one basis --
08:36
the pest, the natural enemy.
08:38
What we do is actually this.
08:41
In Northeast Israel,
08:44
in Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu,
08:46
there is a facility
08:48
that mass-produces those natural enemies.
08:50
In other words, what we do there,
08:52
we amplify,
08:54
we amplify the natural control,
08:56
or the biological control phenomenon.
08:59
And in 30,000 square meters
09:01
of state-of-the-art greenhouses,
09:04
there, we are mass-producing those predatory mites,
09:06
those minute pirate bugs,
09:09
those parasitic wasps, etc., etc.
09:11
Many different parts.
09:13
By the way, they have a very nice landscape --
09:15
you see the Jordanian Mountains on the one hand
09:17
and the Jordan Valley on the other hand,
09:20
and a good, mild winter
09:22
and a nice, hot summer,
09:24
which is an excellent condition
09:26
to mass-produce those creatures.
09:28
And by the way, mass-production --
09:30
it is not genetic manipulation.
09:32
There are no GMOs --
09:34
Genetically Modified Organisms -- whatsoever.
09:36
We take them from nature,
09:38
and the only thing that we do,
09:40
we give them the optimal conditions,
09:42
under the greenhouses or in the climate rooms,
09:44
in order to proliferate,
09:47
multiply and reproduce.
09:49
And that's what we get, in fact.
09:51
You see under a microscope.
09:53
You see in the upper left corner, you see a single predatory mite.
09:55
And this is the whole bunch of predatory mites.
09:58
You see this ampoule. You see this one.
10:01
I have one gram of those predatory mites.
10:04
One gram's 80,000 individuals,
10:07
80,000 individuals
10:10
are good enough
10:13
to control one acre, 4,000 square meters,
10:15
of a strawberry plot
10:18
against spider mites for the whole season
10:20
of almost one year.
10:23
And we can produce from this, believe you me,
10:26
several dozens of kilograms
10:29
on an annual basis.
10:31
So this is what I call
10:34
amplification of the phenomenon.
10:36
And no, we do not disrupt the balance.
10:38
On the contrary,
10:41
because we bring it to every cultural plot
10:43
where the balance was already disrupted
10:46
by the chemicals.
10:48
Here we come with those natural enemies
10:50
in order to reverse a little bit of the wheel
10:52
and to bring more natural balance
10:55
to the agricultural plot by reducing those chemicals.
10:57
That's the whole idea.
11:00
And what is the impact?
11:02
In this table, you can actually see what is an impact
11:04
of a successful biological control
11:07
by good bugs.
11:09
For example, in Israel,
11:11
where we employ
11:13
more than 1,000 hectares --
11:15
10,000 dunams in Israeli terms --
11:18
of biological pest controlling sweet pepper
11:20
under protection,
11:23
75 percent of the pesticides
11:25
were actually reduced.
11:27
And Israeli strawberries, even more --
11:29
80 percent of the pesticides,
11:31
especially those aimed against pest mites in strawberries.
11:33
So the impact is very strong.
11:37
And there goes the question,
11:40
especially if you ask growers, agriculturists:
11:43
Why biological control?
11:46
Why good bugs?
11:48
By the way, the number of answers you get
11:50
equals the number of people you ask.
11:52
But if we go, for example, to this place,
11:56
Southeast Israel,
11:58
the Arava area above the Great Rift Valley,
12:00
where the really top-notch --
12:03
the pearl of the Israeli agriculture
12:05
is located,
12:07
especially under greenhouse conditions, or under screenhouse conditions --
12:09
if you drive all the way to Eilat, you see this
12:12
just in the middle of the desert.
12:15
And if you zoom in,
12:17
you can definitely watch this,
12:19
grandparents with their grandchildren,
12:21
distributing the natural enemies, the good bugs,
12:23
instead of wearing special clothes
12:26
and gas masks and applying chemicals.
12:28
So safety, with respect to the application,
12:31
this is the number one answer that we get from growers,
12:34
why biological control.
12:37
Number two, many growers
12:40
are in fact petrified
12:42
from the idea of resistance,
12:44
that the pests will become resistant
12:47
to the chemicals,
12:50
just in our case that bacteria
12:52
becomes resistant to antibiotics.
12:54
It's the same, and it can happen very quickly.
12:56
Fortunately, in either biological control
13:00
or even natural control,
13:02
resistance is extremely rare.
13:04
It hardly happens.
13:07
Because this is evolution,
13:09
this is the natural ratio,
13:11
unlike resistance,
13:13
which happens in the case of chemicals.
13:15
And thirdly, public demand.
13:17
Public demand -- the more the public
13:20
demands the reduction of chemicals,
13:23
the more growers become aware of the fact
13:25
they should, wherever they can and wherever possible,
13:28
replace the chemical control
13:31
with biological control.
13:33
Even here, there is another grower,
13:35
you see, very interested in the bugs,
13:37
the bad ones and the good ones,
13:39
wearing this magnifier already on her head,
13:41
just walking safely
13:43
in her crop.
13:45
Finally, I want to get actually to my vision,
13:47
or in fact, to my dream.
13:50
Because, you see, this is the reality.
13:52
Have a look at the gap.
13:54
If we take the overall turnover
13:56
of the biocontrol industry worldwide,
13:58
it's 250 million dollars.
14:00
And look at the overall pesticide industry
14:03
in all the crops throughout the world.
14:06
I think it's times 100 or something like that.
14:09
Twenty-five billion.
14:12
So there is a huge gap to bridge.
14:14
So actually, how can we do it?
14:17
How can we bridge, or let's say, narrow, this gap
14:19
in the course of the years?
14:22
First of all, we need to find more robust,
14:24
good and reliable biological solutions,
14:27
more good bugs
14:30
that we can either mass-produce
14:32
or actually conserve in the field.
14:35
Secondly, to create even more
14:38
intensive and strict public demand
14:40
to reduction of chemicals
14:42
in the agricultural fresh produce.
14:44
And thirdly, also to increase awareness by the growers
14:47
to the potential of this industry.
14:50
And this gap really narrows.
14:53
Step by step, it does narrow.
14:55
So I think my last slide is:
14:59
All we are saying, we can actually sing it:
15:01
Give nature a chance.
15:04
So I'm saying it on behalf of all the biocontrol
15:06
petitioners and implementers,
15:08
in Israel and abroad,
15:10
really give nature a chance.
15:12
Thank you.
15:14
(Applause)
15:16

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Shimon Steinberg - Entomologist
Shimon Steinberg's biotech lab researches ways to harness the natural benefits of insects on a massive scale.

Why you should listen

Shimon Steinberg is chief scientist at Bio-Bee, a world leader in mass production of the world's best natural, biological control agents: bugs. (Beneficial bugs are replacing the use of chemical sprays in greenhouse vegetables and open field crops, producing pesticide-free food and eliminating hazardous exposure of millions of workers in third world countries.) These insects are shipped worldwide, where they go to work protecting thousands of hectares of greenhouses and open fields, in vegetables, field crops, fruit trees, ornamental plants and more.

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