Research

Sustainable bioproduction of insect pheromones for pest control in agriculture

We are developing low-cost manufacturing platforms for the production of insect pheromones for the control of insect pests of agriculture and horticulture as a sustainable alternative to conventional pesticides.

Project Summary.

Led by: Patron Group

Start date: April 2018

End date: September 2021

Grants: ERA-CoBioTech BB/R021554/1

Some of the most aggressive pests of agriculture are insect larvae. These are frequently controlled by applying broad-spectrum pesticides, which are progressively being restricted due to concerns about their non-specificity and negative impact on biodiversity.  

Insect sex pheromones, produced by virgin females to attract mates of the same species, present a sustainable alternative to conventional pesticides. Pheromones are already used for insect control as part of integrated pest management strategies, either for trapping the target species or by disrupting mating preventing them from laying eggs within the crop.

Chemical synthesis is currently the only approach for manufacturing insect pheromones but the unusual chemical characteristics of many insect pheromones mean that chemical synthesis strategies are not cost effective. For example, the sex pheromones of aggressive Coccoidea pests (scale insects and mealybugs) for which better control methods are highly desirable, have unusual cyclic structures of which chemical synthesis is both difficult and expensive.

The SUSPHIRE project aims to provide sustainable, low-cost biomanufacturing platforms for the commercial production of insect pheromones.

Impact statement.

The introduction of biotechnology approaches to pheromone production will expand the use of sex pheromones for sustainable pest control in agriculture, reducing its environmental impact. Pesticides, which are progressively being restricted due to concerns about their non-specificity and negative impact on biodiversity. In contrast, pheromones are species specific and are dispensed in small amounts into the air, leaving no residues on food crops. However, many pheromones are expensive and difficult to produce -  the biotechnology approaches in this project offers novel low-cost and sustainable platforms for production.

People working on the project.