Science of the Plague
Author: Tillmann Scholl
They travel with the wind in enormous swarms and attack every green plant in their sight, eating everything bare within minutes. Locusts are a plague and highly damaging to agriculture – particularly in Africa, as most people tend to believe. Very few know that locusts can also be useful and that many ecosystems would not be able to function properly without them.
Frequently, their massive onslaughts are also caused by human beings. Monocultures and the cultivation of plants favoured in particular by locusts provide them with ideal living conditions. Using the example of "the biggest environmental disaster since Chernobyl" (UNESCO), the film impressively shows how the insects multiply astronomically around Lake Aral in Uzbekistan, which is drying up. Since the water of Lake Aral's feeder stream is being diverted into Uzbek cotton fields, huge belts of reeds have spread right around the lake – the staple diet of the Asian migratory locust.
In fundamental neurobiological research, however, the insects have advanced to stardom as they represent model organisms on which the functions of the central nervous system can be studied particularly well. Equipped with miniaturised transmitters, they are shot into the air with catapults in order to measure the nerve impulses on their wings. The neural control system that coordinates their six legs was used as a model for a computer program responsible for controlling a robot.
Locusts are less popular with professional locust exterminators who, in the service of the German development aid programme, are trying to get the biblical plague under control. SPIEGEL TV author Tillmann Scholl has had a look around research laboratories, joined locust experts in hunting for them in the steppe of Uzbekistan, and has discovered fascinating details about these insects.
year of production: 2006