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Corn borers, beware of chips.

Corn borers, beware the chips

Life and death imitate art at the Universityof Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where researchers have developed computer models of unicellular protozoa attacking moth larvae, which in turn are attacking corn. The intricate graphics-- which model the spread through a corn-field of moth larvae called corn borers, and their parasites called microsporidia-- are based on 700,000 numbers and 68 years of literature in insect pathology. Because microsporidia attack, weaken and sometimes kill the larvae, which are currently treated with chemicals, scientists hope to use them to control the borers.

In the latest three-dimensional graphics,representing a field of 800 corn plants, the red segments show the microsporidia-infected borer population per plant, while the green indicates uninfected larva populations; yellow signifies large concentrations of both sick and healthy larvae. At present, the height of the lines also represents larva density, but those developing the model are modifying the program so height represents spore density per plant.

"The model is more complex than mostothers ever made,' says David Onstad, an entomologist on the Illinois team. "No one in the past has looked at [this type of biological system] using a model.'

But Onstad, art professor Donna Coxand computer specialist Ray Idaszak aren't just making pretty pictures. Corn borers are a serious threat to cultivated crops, causing income losses totaling millions of dollars each year.

Turning "a mountain of data' into computersimulations of the daily changes in corn borer infestation over the 140 days of a growing season requires the use of a supercomputer at the university's National Center for Supercomputing Applications. It still takes a 6.7-minute run (more than 1 billion calculations) to compute the model, according to Onstad. Adding to the complexity of the model are factors such as the 40 life stages of healthy corn borers, movement from plant to plant, the size of the larvae when attacked by the parasite, and different modes of transmission.
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Title Annotation:computer graphics used in research to fight corn borers
Author:Edwards, Diane D.
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 10, 1987
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