Entomology Postworld War Ii Technologys Triumph

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Surviving World War III

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The explosion of the atom bomb over Nagasaki in 1945 brought a dramatic end to World War II and in so doing, highlighted the role of science and technology in the victory. Following this, the age-old ritual of "beating swords into plowshares" turned scientific and technical advances to peaceful ends.

No field emerged with more exciting prospects than did the field of entomology. DDT, with its wartime secrecy removed, was hailed as the answer to insect control. Its employment in arresting an epidemic of typhus in Naples in 1943-1944 dramatically neutralized the lethal companion of armed conflict, vector-borne disease.

Overnight the entomological community documented DDT's remarkable effectiveness in controlling insect pests of agricultural, medical, and veterinary importance. The race was on, and an old alliance assumed new vigor. The Land Grant Universities joined with industry and agriculture to exploit the new possibilities of chemical pest control.

Although industrial grants to the Agricultural Experiment Stations to fund trials of mutual interest dated from the early 1930s, they assumed a greater role in Experiment Station research as the partnership geared up for a new era in the synthesis of pesticides. The chlorinated hydrocarbons, with DDT their prototype, yielded related compounds followed by the development of organophosphates, methyl carbamates, and pyretheroids, all neuroactive chemicals. By the 1950s, post-WWII insecticides had become the mainstay of insect control, with the prewar calls for biological and cultural controls in eclipse.

Professional Societies

Professional societies perform important functions. They establish the ethical and intellectual standards of the discipline, provide liaisons with the scientific community and the public, and provide continuity and the written record. In North America, three major professional societies have served the entomologists of Canada, Mexico, and the United States: the Entomological Society of Canada, La Sociedad Mexicana de Entomologia, and the Entomological Society of America (ESA). Today, the membership in these three societies stands at about 8000. The new challenge to entomological societies will be to hold to their traditional goals while embracing the environmental and biodiversity crusades, advancing IPM, and increasing interdisciplinary collaboration. Because the ESA is the largest of the three societies and enjoys substantial joint membership from the other two, we will focus on its recent history.

As the scope of applied and basic entomology grew under the stimulus of post-World War II goals, the two primary entomological societies in the United States, the American Association of Economic Entomologists (AAEE) and the ESA, recognized two common needs. They needed professional management to better process publications and provide other services for their members. In addition, professional entomologists needed to address the big policy issues posed by the growing importance of the biological sciences in human affairs. Big science was emerging as a national goal, and the landscape was changing physically. For example, the stately elms were vanishing, casualties to an insect-vectored disease. The gypsy moth and the imported fire ant were on the move. The Green Revolution had captured the imagination of the great humanitarian organizations. Therefore, entomology was being summoned to new levels of leadership.

A merger of the two organizations seemed to offer advantages in both management and unity. This view was not unanimous, particularly among ESA members, who were outnumbered three to one by AAEE. After protracted debate and two ballots, the two societies merged in 1953 as the Entomological Society of America.

It soon became evident that although the new ESA gained administrative efficiency, it was not unified in its philosophy and the more numerous and vocal members oriented to applied entomology predominated. Stress arising from this dichotomy within the membership has characterized the ESA over the nearly 5 decades since the merger.

Enter Rachel Carson

Early warnings of the danger of insecticide mania were sounded within the entomological community, but these warnings were largely ignored. It was the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962 that triggered the avalanche of public concern (Fig. 2). She lamented that "so primitive a science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insect, it has turned them against the earth."

Overnight, her exhortation changed the public's perception of entomologists. Their traditional obscurity was swept away. They were in the public eye, viewed as allies with the corporate giants, poisoners of robins and the earth, all under the pious veil of aiding the consumer by aiding the farmer.

Response to Rachel Carson's charges came largely from industry, whose strategy was to discount the witness. This proved ineffective as the accumulating evidence reinforced her concerns. Practices that endangered birds, especially the national symbol, the American eagle, were certain to stir emotions.

The public debate on the pesticide issue did not reach the agenda of the Entomological Society of America. The Society formed by merger in 1953 had not become a forum for debate on issues concerning the field. Instead, plenary sessions at the Society's annual meetings were largely ceremonial with substantive debate occurring in the subject matter sections representing the various areas of specialization among their members. In short, there was no philosophical common denominator that united the Society.

Carson's Silent Spring became a corner stone of the environmental movement. Her thesis focused on the "web of

FIGURE 2 Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) focused public attention on the pesticide issue. Her crusade catalyzed the environmental movement. (Harbrace photograph.)

life," which placed humanity's relationship to all forms of life in an ecological context. The concern for the environment and the natural world triggered by Silent Spring melded with other concerns for humans—women's rights, the war in Vietnam, and Native American rights—to give rise to the broadly based environmental movement embracing the rights of humans and nature, animate and inanimate. This great philosophical debate extending over the past 4 decades proceeded without the active involvement of the entomological community.

One of the immediate effects of Silent Spring was to make pesticide policy a matter of public debate. While focusing on DDT, the issue became broader and embraced the central tenet of the environmental movement: that human intervention had become the dominant environmental influence on the planet. The fact that, despite the restricted use of DDT, its residues could be found in Antarctica implicated entomologists in the global insult.

In 1967, a group of concerned individuals formed the Environmental Defense Fund, its object being to use litigation in defense of citizens' right to a clean environment. In protracted public hearings, entomologists were called to testify that their practices were not infringing on citizens' rights to a clean environment. It was an uncomfortable defensive position in which these dedicated "defenders of agriculture" were placed. In 1972, a decade after Silent Spring, the Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT. Its meteoric rise and fall, from discovery to banning, had spanned only 3 decades.

Economic entomologists in general viewed Silent Spring as an attack on their professional competence and integrity. Since the late 19 th century, they had cultivated a self-image as dedicated public servants, bringing science "to the distressed husbandman" whose labors were closely aligned with the national interest. This explains in part their emotional response and sense of hurt that has lingered among entomologists of the DDT era.

Ecology's Promise

Economic entomologists of the 1960s faced two daunting challenges, the loss of public confidence in the aftermath of Silent Spring and the failure of their programs of insect control. These were powerful incentives for reassessment.

In the early 1950s, well before Silent Spring, the concerns regarding the insecticidal treadmill led a group of entomologists at the University of California at Berkeley and at Riverside to reassess control practices. Drawing on the biological control heritage pioneered by Harry Scott Smith (1883-1957) they sought to "integrate" features of biological and chemical control. This concept with further refinement led to the adoption by the late 1960s of IPM. In practice, IPM seeks to integrate multiple control measures into a cohesive package, the additive impact of which would hold pests within acceptable levels with minimum adverse environmental impact.

The abbreviation "IPM" was soon adopted worldwide to identify a holistic approach to pest control. Its enthusiastic reception reflected the optimism accorded a new paradigm, one that placed pest control on an ecological foundation.

The most impressive feature of the movement has been its evolving nature. The underlying theory and the fundamental question that has plagued population ecologists, "What factors determine the number and distribution of animals?" remain under debate. Views on the role of pesticides in IPM are likewise evolving. Progress has been made in tailoring pest-specific insecticides with reduced environmental disruption. Although impressive gains have been made in specific programs, the IPM era has not resulted in a major decline in the total quantities of pesticides used.

The euphoria induced by the IPM concept has run its course, and its promise after 3 decades is a subject of lively debate. One of the problems affecting acceptance and support of IPM is the difficulty of assessing its effectiveness. It is a complex system with many obstacles and a restricted database for evaluating a variety of constraints: technical, financial, educational, organizational, and social. Whatever the outcome, there is no turning back. The human intellect has been unable to construct a more promising strategy for keeping humans' age-old competitors in check. For millions of people threatened with disease and hunger, IPM constitutes their safety net for tomorrow.

In seeking to understand the strategy employed by applied entomologists, it is helpful to note historical perspective. Applied entomologists were late to embrace ecology despite the entreaties of their distinguished president of the

Entomological Society of America in 1912, Stephen A. Forbes. He insisted that "the economic entomologist is an ecologist pure and simple whether he considers himself so or not." In retrospect, it appears that entomologists opted for the certainty of insecticides favored by their farmer clientele over the uncertain promise of ecology. Their adherence to the conventional wisdom of insecticidal control in the DDT era tarnished their image as environmentalists.

In medical and veterinary entomology, the post-World War II experience with the miracle insecticides paralleled the experience with agricultural pests. First, there was euphoria following the miraculous effectiveness of the insecticides. So promising were the prospects that in 1955 the World Health Organization (WHO) proposed global eradication of malaria. However, the development of resistant strains of vectors and parasites as well as economic and political factors doomed the eradication program. In 1976, the WHO abandoned eradication in favor of more modest programs of control. Research languished under the demoralizing effect of this decision. With antimalarial drugs and insecticides losing their effectiveness, the battle against malaria was being lost. Alarmed at these developments, the WHO, in 1993, called for a renewed global effort. The initially slow response has gained support, with unprecedented funding available in 2000 for new initiatives.

An ambitious objective is the development of a vaccine against malaria. Although the scientific obstacles are enormous, researchers are now predicting a successful vaccine by about 2010. The most ambitious and futuristic of all approaches to combating malaria is creating a strain of Anopheles gambiae mosquito unable to transmit the parasite. To displace the native vectors involves three steps: find genes that interrupt the parasite's life cycle, develop techniques to transfer those genes into the mosquito, and finally, develop ways of replacing existing mosquito populations with the genetically engineered model. One additional hurdle remains. With such a mosquito in hand, there may be strong resistance to releasing such transgenic forms into nature. In the meantime, the disease continues to cast its shadow over the malaria-endemic areas of the world, which are home to 40% of the world's population.

Advancing the Science

The past 5 decades have witnessed remarkable advances in both applied and basic entomology. The collapse of chemical control of insects forced reassessment, which gave rise to IPM. While the pesticide issue dominated public interest, basic science was forging ahead.

The primary stimulus was the discovery in 1953 that the compound deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) encodes genetic information that provides the blueprint for synthesis and cellular differentiation; this discovery elucidated the great mystery of life, the cell's ability to self-replicate. Many aspects of biology were catalyzed by the discovery. It dramatically reaffirmed Darwin's hypothesis of common descent and revealed evolutionary pathways. The studies of molecular systematics that followed have resulted in accumulation of much DNA sequence data from most insect groups. These data complement and enhance the morphological and ecological data of classical systematics, thereby making substantial contributions to evolutionary biology.

The DNA breakthrough also paved the way for biotechnology, the introduction of genes from various species into plant and animal species. With biotechnology, plants can be engineered to produce their own pesticides. Corn can be altered to contain a pesticide produced by the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, with such corn being designated "Bt" corn.

This technology can place the cornucopia of biodiversity in the service of agriculture and medicine. But this novel technology comes with complex ethical and scientific issues in environmental stewardship and human health. The scientific community as well as the general public is in strong disagreement over the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the ecosystem. Caution should prevail until some basic questions are answered. For instance, what impact will the thousands of acres of Bt corn have on the complex of beneficial and injurious insects on the modified plants?

GMOs conferring drought tolerance to food crops of developing countries would be welcomed additions as the food supply grows more tenuous with rising populations and civil disruption. In weighing these options, it needs to be recognized that an infrastructure to monitor such crops is not in place at present. The role of GMOs in IPM is likewise uncertain in developed countries, and resistance to GMOs is particularly acute in European countries.

Industry has been quick to recognize biotechnology's commercial potential, and substantial segments of the seed market have been given over to GMOs. Questions of a scientific nature are joined by social and economic questions. For instance, should corporate interest determine and control the genetic profile of the three crops, corn, rice, and wheat, that provide sustenance for most of the peoples of the world?

The economic issues surrounding GMOs seem to overshadow the more basic environmental issues they pose. For instance, the biodiversity program seeks to conserve natural forms, whereas biotechnology seeks to replace natural forms with modified ones exempted from evolutionary testing. Over time, how will this practice affect the gene pool, the timeless and priceless biological resource?

Although elucidation of the structure and function of DNA is clearly the most important discovery of the 20th century, other discoveries have greatly advanced our understanding of insects. This progress is due in large measure to technical advances in fields such as insect olfaction, acoustics, flight, and communication (e.g., by pheromones).

Such advances have in turn altered the way scientists communicate in person and in professional literature. They became more informal and democratic. The excitement was often centered in youth, in graduate students, with women strongly represented.

The excitement of discovery and exuberant professional exchange produced masses of data leading to new specialized journals. The worldwide computer network has catalyzed the processing and exchange of data among colleagues on a global scale. The predominant use of English in scientific journals has reduced language barriers. Thus, in both applied and basic entomology, the latter half of the 20th century has represented a new order, new methodologies, new discoveries, and new organizational arrangements. The paths of progress in the multifaceted phases of entomology are well documented in the Annual Review of Entomology, published since 1956.

Historical Perspective

The preceding 2 centuries of entomological enterprise in North America have been directed primarily to two activities: (1) protecting humans' food, fiber, and health and (2) basic research to advance knowledge of insects. These were and continue to be appropriate objectives in the national interest.

FIGURE 3 Edward O. Wilson's prolific writings advanced the science of entomology, established the field of sociobiology, and led the 21st century movement to preserve biodiversity.

In the past half century the environmental movement and the emerging science of ecology have highlighted two salient points: (1) insects play a vital role in the sustainability of the global biosphere and (2) the biodiversity essential to sustainability is threatened by human intervention. The factors of habitat destruction, pollution, and introduction of exotic species are believed to account for extinction rates much higher than before the coming of humans. In addition, the ecological impact of global warming looms on the horizon. The movement to preserve biodiversity has been led by E. O. Wilson (Fig. 3) following publication of his The Diversity of Life (1992). The concept has been generally accepted and is now part of the American culture.

The extinction dilemma poses new challenges to the field of entomology and calls for modification of the image entomologists hold of themselves and of the institutions established in the past to deal with entomological matters. The new order calls for entomological statesmanship that looks beyond entomology's traditional agricultural constituency to the global environmental issues. Thus, the age-old challenge of insect control will be joined with the challenge of insect conservation.

See Also the Following Articles

Agricultural Entomology • Biological Control • Entomological Societies • Extension Entomology • Integrated Pest Management • Regulatory Entomology

Further Reading

"Annual Review of Entomology" (1956-2003). Vols. 1-48. Annual Reviews, Palo Alto, CA.

Berenbaum, M. R. (1995). "Bugs in the System, Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs." Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA. Dunlap, T. R. (1981). "DDT: Science, Citizen and Public Policy." Princeton

University Press, Princeton, NJ. Howard, L. O. (1930). "A History of Applied Entomology," Vol. 84.

Smithsonian Inst., Washington, DC. Mallis, A. (1971). "American Entomologists." Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.

Mayr, E. (1982). "The Growth of Biological Thought. Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance." Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. Paladino, P. (1996). "Entomology, Ecology and Agriculture: The Making of Scientific Careers in North America, 1885-1985." Harwood Academic, Amsterdam.

Perkins, J. A. (1966). "The University in Transition," p. 43. Princeton

University Press, Princeton, NJ. Perkins, J. H. (1982). "Insects, Experts, and the Insecticide Crisis." Plenum Press, New York.

Smith, R. F., Mitter, T. E., and Smith, C. H. (eds.) (1973). "History of

Entomology." Annual Reviews, Palo Alto, CA. Sorensen, W. C. (1995). "Brethren of the Net: American Entomology,

1840-1880." University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa. Stein, B. A., Kutner, L. S., and Adams, J. S. (eds.) (2000). "Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States." Oxford University Press,


Whorton, J. (1974). "Before Silent Spring: Pesticides and Public Health in

Pre-DDT America." Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ. Wilson, E. O. (1992). "The Diversity of Life." Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Wilson, E. O. (1994). "Biophilia." Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Worster, D. (1988). "Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas.' Cambridge University Press, New York.

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