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Catching Stinkers' DNA

DNA sloughed off by brown marmorated stinkbugs can be detected within the water farmers use to wash crops before the pests have fully invaded that farm, Scientific American reports. It notes that the stinkbugs, which are native to eastern Asia, have caused farmers to lose entire crops and that by the time farmers notice the invasion, it's too late for them to do anything about it.

But researchers from Rutgers University have found that environmental DNA sampling may be able to detect the pests early on. As they report in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, they collected crops from two farms and tested the water used to wash them. One farm was known to have stinkbugs and the other was not.

Using their qPCR approach, the Rutgers team not only uncovered stinkbug DNA at the New Jersey farm known to be infected, but also at the New Hampshire farm that wasn't thought to be infected. One young bug was then uncovered at the New Hampshire farm, confirming the researchers' eDNA results.

While the Rutgers team says eDNA sampling could "revolutionize agricultural pest surveillance," Virginia Tech's Thomas Kuhar tells Scientific American that tried-and-true approaches may be cheaper and better at estimating pest numbers.