Good news for crop farmers this week with UK scientists discovering molecules they hope will confuse insects’ sense of smell and therefore their ability to detect plants – and each other.
The researchers believe this could reduce the damage insects cause to crops and lead to better food security. Roughly one-quarter of the world’s crops are lost annually to pests and disease.
Lead researcher Dr Antony Hooper of Rothamsted Research, an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) which funded the research, said: “One way in which insects find each other and their hosts is by smell, or more accurately: the detection of chemical signals – pheromones. Insects smell chemicals with their antennae; the chemical actually gets into the antennae of the insect and then attaches to a protein called an odorant-binding protein, or OBP. This then leads to the insect changing its behavior in some way in response to the smell, for example, flying towards a plant or congregating with other insects.”
Dr Hooper and his team studied an OBP found in the silkworm moth Bombyx mori, and were able to look at how it and a relevant pheromone interact. They also tested the interaction between OBP and other molecules that were similar to, but not the same as, the pheromone.