Researchers develop insect sex pheromones in transgenic camelina plant for maintainable pest control

Researchers develop insect sex pheromones in transgenic camelina plant for maintainable pest control


  • Post By : Kumar Jeetendra

  • Source: ISCA, Inc.

  • Date: 15 Jan,2021

The camelina plant, a source of cooking oil for centuries, is on its way toward revolutionizing pest management in agriculture.

Researchers at ISCA, Inc., a green agtech firm based in Riverside, Calif., and their collaborators in Sweden have “grown” insect sex pheromone precursors in genetically modified strains of camelina plants, creating a low-cost source of pheromones needed for sustainable pest management.

The Swedish research team from the Lund University, Swedish Agricultural University, and SemioPlant, altered the genetic code of these plants to contain genes of insects and other organisms that direct the creation of the desired pheromones. The plants produce insect pheromone precursor compounds in their abundant seed oil.

ISCA, a world leader in pheromone-based insect controllers, has grown successive generations of the transgenic camelina plants and developed a prototype product with plant-derived pheromones to control the cotton bollworm moth (Helicoverpa armigera), a significant world pest species that causes hundreds of millions of dollars annually in damage to cotton, corn, tomato, chickpea, and other plants.

Results from an initial trial in Brazil showed that the ISCA formula with plant-derived pheromones performed just as well as a formula with pheromones made from regular chemical synthesis techniques. Both suppressed H. armigera inhabitants in bean fields by preventing adult moths from mating. ISCA is also growing plant-derived pheromones controls for the fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda, another catastrophic moth species.

The camelina plant innovation recently received a substantial financial investment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for additional development and commercialization. The $650,000 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) followed an earlier $100,000 grant for a first phase of the project, called”Grow Your Own Pheromone.” NIFA awarded the grants through its Small Business Research Innovation program. The grant to ISCA will support ongoing efforts to develop transgenic camelina strains which produce the sex pheromones of other moth pest species and corresponding sustainable pest management solutions.

We are very excited with NIFA/USDA’s investment in our company. Pheromone and other semiochemical controls are the future of crop protection, and ISCA’s breakthrough biological pheromone synthesis will propel agriculture into a more lucrative and sustainable enterprise. Efficacious pheromone controls are badly needed, especially now that global agriculture faces increasing pest resistance that renders conventional insecticides less effective and increasing pressure from governments and consumers demanding ever safer and greener food production.”

Agenor Mafra-Neto, ISCA’s CEO

In Sweden, the transgenic plants were developed under the Oil Crops for the Future research program financed by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research.

“We are extremely happy to see that collaboration with ISCA will bring this innovation to the market for the advantage of environmentally friendly pest management,” said study leader and Lund University Biology Professor Christer Lofstedt. “In cooperation with ISCA, we expect to develop new lines to target a lot of other significant pests.”

Pheromones are among the next generation of insect controls since they protect crops by manipulating the behavior of problem insects, such as by preventing them from mating or by repelling them away from plants. Unlike conventional insecticides, pheromone controls affect only the insect species – leaving bees and other wildlife unharmed. Furthermore, pheromones do not leave harmful residues on food produce, cause little if any environmental pollution, and are much less prone to pest resistance.

By having plants do the majority of the synthesis work, pheromone production costs will be slashed. Biosynthesis in plants also eliminates the requirement to use petroleum-based substances as feedstock and bypasses most of the complex organic chemistry steps which are now necessary in pheromone manufacturing.

The camelina plant (Camelina sativa) is a cousin of broccoli and canola that’s been cultivated as an annual crop for centuries as a source of healthy cooking oil. Putting the plant to work to make low-cost sources of insect pheromones is expected to provide a large boost to earth-friendly mating disruption controls for several devastating moth species. In nature, the female moths release into the atmosphere a species-specific sex pheromone to call males for mating. Applications of the same pheromone in the field, however, create tens of thousands of pheromone trails that lead to nowhere. This makes it almost impossible for the males to seek out mates. The females are left to lay sterile eggs, which prevents the next generation of highly damaging caterpillars from hatching, protecting the crops.


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