Studying Mites

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

American government scientists are using new technology to study mites. The technology produces clear images of the extremely small creatures. The images also show how mites attack plants and insects.

Reports say the technology will change our understanding of mites. The scientists say it will lead to better ways to control mites. They also hope it will result in more ways to use mites to help humans.

Mites are among the oldest creatures on Earth. They have attacked animals and plants for millions of years. Mites remain a threat to crops, grains, farm animals and humans.

Ronald Ochoa is the Department of Agriculture's chief expert on mites. He says more than six-thousand kinds of mites attack almost every plant important to agriculture. He notes that mites cause thousands of millions of dollars in economic losses in the United States.

However, many kinds of mites are able to control other mites. They feed on other mites and control their populations naturally.

Agricultural Research magazine reports scientists have identified forty-eight-thousand kinds of mites. That represents only ten percent of the total number. Scientists have not yet studied the remaining ninety percent.

Studies of mites have been limited by the creatures' size. Most mites are too small to be seen without a microscope. Some are only about as large as bacteria. One kind of mite is so small it can raise a mite family on a single human hair.

The Agricultural Research Service is now using a new technology to study mites. It is called low-temperature scanning electron microscopy. The scientists use liquid nitrogen to prepare a mite for examination. Liquid nitrogen prevents the creature from moving. It freezes the mite in its natural condition.

Reports say low-temperature scanning electron microscopy can increase the size of an image more than fifty-thousand times. Mr. Ochoa says the technology provides a powerful new tool in the study of mites and other small organisms. He says it will help show how the mites react to their environment. And, he says it will show how light, temperature, water and pressure affect the creatures.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.