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Keen to find an effective way of controlling locust swarms, such as those that are currently plaguing large regions of Africa, The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is hoping to test a chemical that stops the insects from synthesising a chemical found in their hard outer shell. In principle, such a technique would prevent juvenile locusts from developing a new coat after they discard their first one in the process of moulting.

Swarms of locusts are spreading east from Mauritania, Mali and Niger into Chad, and experts are concerned they will go as far as Sudan and the Middle East. If this were to happen, the situation would be classified as a plague.

The fast spread of the swarms has been mainly caused by rainy weather, providing the insects with green vegetables on which to feed, and damp soil in which to lay eggs. At least four new generations of locusts have been spawned since October 2003, with numbers increasing 20-fold each time.

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