Researchers develop technology to shoot down crop-damaging “hasumon yoto” moths with laser light. (Provided by Osaka University’s Institute of Laser Engineering)

SUITA, Osaka Prefecture--Researchers here succeeded in zapping crop-damaging moths with laser beams, a development that has wide implications for parts of the world that suffer insect infestations.

“We want to contribute to tackling food shortages by improving efficiency in agricultural production,” said Kazuhisa Yamamoto, an engineering professor at Osaka University, who is a member of the team.

The findings were announced at a conference of the Laser Society of Japan on Jan. 19. The researchers intend to apply their technology to eliminating cockroaches and flies.

A video released by the team showed the last struggles of “hasumon yoto” (common cutworm), a moth found in Japan and many other parts of the world.

The bug loses its balance and plops down the moment it is struck by a bright ray of light.

The moth’s larva has such a voracious appetite that cabbage leaves are riddled with worm holes overnight. Its Japanese name derives from the word “yoto” (night thief).

As the larva lives below ground during the day, chemical pesticides are not effective. How to safely eradicate the species posed a challenge.

Hiroshi Fuji, a specially appointed professor of photonics at Osaka University’s Institute of Laser Engineering, and his colleagues generated high heat by focusing laser light on a circle with a diameter of 1 centimeter.

The technique was known to stop 5-millimeter-long mosquitoes in their tracks, but whether it would be effective in dealing with 2-cm-long moth imagoes, which fly at 2 meters per second, was unclear.

The researchers targeted moths in flight and on walls, using a camera and image recognition software.

It emerged that applying laser light to the moth’s back, which is protected by wings, is not enough to bring it down.

But the insect lost its balance and fell when laser light hits its head or the inner upper side of its body, giving off flashes and smoke.

Attacking these weak spots likely made the bug freeze by raising their body temperatures above 60-80 degrees and changing the characteristics of body-constituting proteins.

When used in agricultural fields, laser light is expected to be applied upward to prevent any harm to people and crops.

The team members will advance research to accurately pinpoint weak areas, with an eye to putting the technology into practical use by 2025.

They also hope to equip robotic vacuums and other devices with the technology to remove household insect pests.