We could conceivably create a pesticide that is only toxic to insects, not humans.
Current pesticides, developed shortly after WWII, target an amino acid called serine, causing a chemical imbalance in the brains of insects eventually killing them. Serine is not unique to insects, which is why serine-based insecticides affect both humans and animals. The theory has been that these pesticides are used in low doses that humans can tolerate, but pests cannot.
The key [to a safe pesticide], according to the study’s author, Yuan-Ping Pang, Ph.D., director of Mayo Clinic’s Computer-Aided Molecular Design Laboratory, was in identifying an insect-specific enzyme that could be used as a direct target for a new insecticide that would not affect humans and animals.
They used a powerful terascale supercomputer – one trillion operations per second. Dr. Pang designed a three-dimensional model of the enzyme.
“We now have a blueprint that will enable the development of a new generation of pesticides that will not be toxic to humans. Ultimately, the idea would be that we would be able to eat apples without washing them — even though it may be covered with pesticides,” says Dr. Pang.
via Agnet Oct. 13/06 — II