Plaguing insects with bittersweet tastes to protect crops

Scientists are developing a new pest control technique which uses their feeding preferences against them.

“Taste-based feeding traps using natural products could be an eco-friendly, cost-efficient and sustainable alternative to synthetic insecticides in the future,” Dr Stefan Pentzold from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, told the EU’s Horizon website.

“Despite their essential role in the insects’ food intake, survival and reproduction, relatively little is known about taste receptors, especially in beetles,” he explained. “This is surprising given their importance as agricultural and forestry pests, their global distribution and huge species numbers as herbivorous insects.” Insects use hairs on their legs, as well as mouthparts and antennae to taste their food before eating, allowing them to sense the chemical signature of their preferred plants. However, some insects have internal taste organs or use smell to find their food.

Israel-based company EdenShield is developing a green alternative to pesticides based on extracts of the native plant lavender cotton (Achillea fragrantissima) which is found in the Judaean Desert. The company hopes that this natural insect repellent will help grower protect crops against greenhouse pests such as whitefly and thrips. They are developing Gatekeeper, a spray product containing natural plant extracts, with help from EU funding.

Photo Caption: Achillea fragrantissima

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