Altered to kill

TRADITIONAL crop enemies should make themselves scarce. Out to get them are genetically engineered bugs from the laboratory of Marjorie A Hoy, a University of Florida entomologist. Hoy recently became the first scientist to ask the us department of agriculture for permission to release the genetically altered mite into a test plot to feed on their spider mite cousins, known for their unwholesome effects on crops. Hoy's mite is an eight-legged, wingless creature and is the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

There are more engineered bugs to come, including cotton-munching moths with 'suicide genes' and mosquitoes with genes that will prevent the spread of human diseases. Genetically engineered arthropods are the current rage among the scientists to battle the many ills facing humankind. A note of caution, however, comes from various eco-groups who believe that the bugs should be studied thoroughly before being released, as it could have ecological ramifications of an unknown nature. Says Jeremy Rifkin, president, Foundation on Economic Trends, Washington, of the mites, "These are alive and can reproduce and can mutate from generation to generation very quickly. They can proliferate over large territories, and they cannot be recalled after they are released".