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Photos: Microbes versus insects

Killing bugs with naturally occurring (but selectively bred) micro-organisms could save farmers billions of dollars a year in crop damage.

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1 of 10 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Pam Marrone, Agraquest

AgraQuest founder Pam Marrone shows off root knot nematodes, a billion-dollar pest. Marrone's fascination with insects started as a kid when she began to trap specimens at a pond in her yard.

To read the story "Recruiting microbes to do the dirty work," click here.

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Bug filled rooms

More insect samples. It's pretty tough to find a room in AgraQuest's main building not filled with bugs.

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Serenade fungicide

The final product--a dried sample of the fungicide Serenade. The home version, sold in a solution, is in the background.

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Fermentation tank

A 7,000-liter fermentation tank where test batches of Serenade and other biopesticides are brewed. The company has acquired a plant in Mexico for mass production.

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Cocoons

Cocoons found at Lake Berryessa, Calif. AgraQuest essentially locates bugs, examines their microbes and then tries to breed the ones that secrete chemicals useful to humans.

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Fridges filled with bugs

Bugs 'R' Us: AgraQuest's development lab is chockablock with fridges and containers filled with flying and crawling insects.

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Not potato salad, moth salad

Don't take a container if it doesn't belong to you. These refrigerated dishes, which in ordinary corporate offices would be filled with half-eaten potato salad, contain army moth worms, a pest that causes billions in crop damage a year.

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Army moth worms

Army moth worms up close. Traditionally, farmers have used chemical sprays to kill them, but a chemical residue remains on the plant. AgraQuest has devised organic pesticides for killing the bugs up to the time of harvest. The recently discovered fungus muscador, found in a Central American cinnamon tree, secretes gases that can kill them too. The company will ultimately try to include muscador in its products.

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Aphids

Aphids. Ugh. A plant extract discovered by a Canadian company may help control them better.

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Molecular magnet

This machine is essentially a big magnet for exciting molecules so that scientists can study their composition. The structure of the molecule must be documented prior to EPA approval.

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