Insects are the Foundation of Planetary Stability
About This Project
by: Dr. Adam Martinez – Sr. Scientist, Invaio
A bug’s life…
Our modern relationship with insects may seem complicated, but way before us there were plants. Insects and plants comprise two of the first and most successful groups of organisms to colonize land on earth and, for nearly 500 million years, both have been inextricably tied to each other (for better or for worse)1. In order for insects and plants to become such huge successes, however, they used those millions of years to coevolve special adaptations for their coexistence2. Understanding the complex relationships between insects and plants is crucial if we hope to remain successful in our agricultural endeavors.
Plants seem like a deceptively easy food source. But for example, cows need four stomachs full of helpful bacteria and enzymes just to eat grass3 and the majority of the solid material in our salads is undigestible to us! This is a problem for which insects innovated several solutions, including: intimate partnerships with nutritional bacteria, specialized teeth for cutting and chewing fiber and wood, and strong digestive enzymes that further break down plant material2,4,5.
While plants, in turn, have evolved their own natural defenses to contend with insects they have also evolved methods for communicating with them, like using bright flowers that attract beneficial insects that help plants reproduce. Flowering plants first arose about 140 million years ago and are now the most widespread group of plants because insects provided a perfect route for plants to fertilize each other6.
“Most people understand that insects like honeybees are important for gardening and agriculture. Generally, however, people mostly associate insects with mysterious critters that invade our homes, cause diseases, or garden pests, despite these only representing a tiny fraction of the millions of species of insects. In fact, insects that cause ecological issues are often due to their introduction by humans in places that they don’t belong.” – Dr. Adam Martinez
It is really about time that we change perception into one that emphasizes importance of the overwhelming majority of insects to ecological stability, human health, and a potential wealth of unexplored natural products. Some lesser known uses of insects include: cleaning our forests, eating our pests, helping us make some of our favorite foods, and developing chemicals for use in modern technology and medicine7,8,9!
So how did we come to consider insects as the enemy in the first place? We began to develop agriculture about 10-15 thousand years ago10. Given their long history with plants, insects were extremely well prepared to take advantage of our huge swaths of cultivated food plants. We discovered their favorite foods, bred them to be more nutritious for ourselves, and placed them all in one convenient location. As a result, we’ve also had to combat them with pesticides that are sometimes too effective and harm beneficial insects like pollinators, predators, and keystone species. This broad elimination of insects is no longer appropriate in modern agriculture and conservation efforts. We need a better and more targeted approach!
Invaio’s approach of utilizing modern research on plant-insect interactions to develop crop-protection and environment-preserving products has attracted a diverse assemblage of Entomologists, Plant Scientists, Microbiologists, Computer Scientists, Bioinformaticians, Chemists, Engineers, and Medical Researchers from both academic and industry backgrounds. Together, our challenge is to actively produce new technologies that deliver our solutions directly to the plants that need them while avoiding harm to insects and other organisms that not only benefit us, but others that are important to healthy natural systems.
Since 2018, Dr. Adam Martinez is a Senior Scientist / Entomologist at Invaio Sciences. He and his peers work to develop new, safer and sustainable methods for targeting insects and other pests in agricultural systems. His research incorporates modern molecular techniques such as high throughput next generation sequencing for microbial community, bacterial genome, and transcriptomic analyses. In his young but impressive career he’s utilized GC-MS for studying fatty acid compounds. Yet, most of his work still involves traditional bioassays, fieldwork, and observation. Overall, he enjoys studying insects and likes to incorporate all aspects of their general biology into his research.
- Misof B, Liu S, Meusemann K, Peters RS, Donath A, Mayer C, … & Niehuis O. (2014). Phylogenomics resolves the timing and pattern of insect evolution. Science, 346(6210), 763-767.
- Funk DJ. (2019) Specialization. In: Choe JC (ed) Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior (Second Edition). Oxford: Academic Press, 101-107.
- The Ruminant Digestive System – https://extension.umn.edu/dairy-nutrition/ruminant-digestive-system
- Sudakaran S, Kost C, and Kaltenpoth M. (2017). Symbiont acquisition and replacement as a source of ecological innovation. Trends Microbiol. 25, 375–390
- Douglas, A. E. (2018). Fundamentals of microbiome science: how microbes shape animal biology. Princeton University Press.
- Bronstein JL, Alarcón R, & Geber M. (2006). The evolution of plant–insect mutualisms. New Phytologist, 172(3), 412-428.
- Losey JE, & Vaughan M. (2006). The economic value of ecological services provided by insects. Bioscience, 56(4), 311-323.
- University of Nebraska: Science and Literacy Outreach. (2020). Benefits of Insects. Retrieved from: https://entomology.unl.edu/scilit/benefits-insects
- American Smithsonian Institution. (2020) Benefits of Insects to Humans. Retrieved from: https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/benefits
- Gray AW, Nair K, Rasmussen WD, Fussell GE, Mellanby K, Ordish G, Crawford GW. (2020 February 04). Encyclopædia Britannica: Origins of Agriculture. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/topic/agriculture