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Do we really need pesticides? - Fernan Pérez-Gálvez


13,944 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

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Annually, we shower over 5 billion pounds of pesticides across the Earth to control insects, unwanted weeds, funguses, rodents, and bacteria that may threaten our food supply. But is it worth it, knowing what we do about the associated environmental and public health risks? Fernan Pérez-Gálvez weighs the pros and cons of pesticides.

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Plants and bugs have been together for a long time; they know each other well by now! Relationships between plants and bugs are complex, from herbivory, to obligated host, to obligate pollinator. Therefore, it is not surprising to find out that chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium) contain a powerful insect pesticide, pyrethrin, which was slightly modified to create a whole chemical pesticide family called pyrethroids. Unlike their antecesor, pyrethrins are tweaked to resist sunlight. Only a few atom differences enabled their effective use in open air. Today, pyrethroid soaked mosquito nets are critical to protect populations from malaria and other insect borne diseases.

Recent outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases like Zika and Chikungunya have increased the enthusiasm for eliminating mosquitoes from Earth. Shouldn’t we be better off without them? Scientists are developing technology solutions to combat pests using approaches apart from chemical poisoning. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations coordinates research projects using the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), proposing an ingenious chemical-free approach to control fertility of some pests. Remembering 2014 TedSalon London talk, Haydn Parry biotechnology entrepreneurship is moving science fiction a step closer to science fact. You can also check out Emma Bryce’s TED-Ed on the Case of the Vanishing honeybees here.

What would happen if we succeed? It is hard to imagine another agenda for mosquitoes that excludes blood-sucking. However, some mosquito species may have significance that is still unknown unknown in ecosystems functioning. Ironically, wiping mosquitoes from the face of earth could have even more annoying consequences. The ability to modify natural populations and ecosystems at will could be closer than imagined. For instance, the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool, one of the most revolutionary technological developments in the decade, has proven to be effective to change the odds of Mendelian inheritance in our favor. This technological breakthrough could aid scientists to engineer ecosystems one species at a time, but who is to give the call?

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Fernan Pérez-Gálvez
  • Director Emily Collins
  • Script Editor Emma Bryce
  • Compositor Marisha Falkovich
  • Designer Minkyung Chung
  • Producer Jessica Peterson
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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