Do you have pods in the basement or are you just writing science fiction? If you’re looking for sci fi plot ideas, go no further than this link: http://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/

The tentacles of agricultural research reach way beyond the farm. Years ago, I used to work for USDA’s agricultural Research Service and often thought that some of that research could fuel stories as fascinating as Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.

Here are a few examples reported in the last several issues of Agricultural Research Magazine at the link above. They may spark plot possibilities for you.

Jan 2016: Scientists work on replacing fossil-based fuel, such as petroleum, with a renewable source of sustainable energy made from agricultural wastes like crop and forestry residue and animal manures. Key advances were made in a process

that produces a crude liquid called “bio-oil” from agricultural waste. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 calls for a minimum of 36 billion gallons of advanced biofuels to be produced in the U.S. by the year 2022. This effort will require, in part, the development of a new industry that produces 21 billion gallons of new biofuels based on non-food sources.

Dec 2015:
Genetic researchers found that the tropical fire ant, a native of Central America and parts of South America, was transported by Spanish ships from Acapulco, Mexico, across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines, and from there to other parts of the world. Today, it is found in nearly all tropical regions—including in Africa, the Americas, Australia, India, and Southeast Asia. Ships that traveled hundreds of years ago, often used soil as ballast to stabilize the ship then dumped it at different ports to make room for cargo. This soil contained all kinds of organisms and likely included ant colonies.

Sept 2015: The documented rise in global atmospheric carbon dioxide is affecting climate, with negative consequences for agriculture. But that increase in carbon dioxide could also have a positive effect on the concentration of some plant chemicals used for fighting disease. Scientists have found that global increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide have affected the plant Artemisia annua, a common roadside weed in the United States and the source of artemesinin, a compound that is used in drugs to treat malaria throughout the world.

Jan 2016:
Like the great storehouses of the past, full of amassed treasures, the Agricultural Research Service’s germplasm collections today preserve a wealth of genetic material, which is a critical national and international resource. These collections fall into three general categories: small, individual research collections; reference collections; and large, national, genetic-resource collections. Their value to scientists, breeders, agriculture, and indeed all of us, is almost beyond measure.

An ARS entomologist devised a jar-like cage to safely collect the eggs of Coleomegilla maculata for her research on the genetics of this helpful ladybug species, a.k.a. pink spotted lady beetle.
This species has a high potential for use in biocontrol programs. Native to the United States, it’s a generalist predator that hunts for prey in many economically important crops, including wheat, corn, cotton, alfalfa, soybean, pea, and tomato, among others. Unlike the Asian spotted lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis), a nonnative competitor, the pink spotted lady beetle doesn’t invade homes during the winter and become a nuisance. It can also survive on pollen when prey is scarce, adding to its versatility as a biocontrol agent that could diminish the need for insecticides.

Which brings me to my own sci real horror story. We lived in West Virginia on a 28-acre farm that had an old second house that we used as a vacation rental. One year, the lady bugs took over. Millions of ‘em. Billions. I went to town looking for a remedy in the local hardware store when an older gentleman came in, crying in despair. “The ladybugs,” he said. “Billions of them. I can’t get rid of them. What can I do?” I listened because we had the same problem. The solution recommended by hardware store personnel: Vacuum them up. This is the solution we used, spending hours vacuuming up lady bugs, only to come back an hour later to find billions more. We sold the farm. Alfred Hitchcock used The Birds. We had The Ladybugs.

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