“Sexy plants” are on the way to replacing many harmful pesticides, scientists say, by producing the sex pheromones of insects which then frustrate pests’ attempts to mate.
Scientists have already genetically engineered a plant to produce the sex pheromones of moths and are now optimising that, as well as working on new pheromones such as those of the mealybugs that plague citrus growers.
“For many species, pheromone manufacturing is difficult and expensive,” said Nicola Patron, at the Earlham Institute, UK, which has received three years of European funding for the new project, along with scientists in Spain, Germany and Slovenia. “Bioengineering can provide viable alternatives to manufacturing, expanding the use of pheromones that will be much kinder to our environment.”
A pilot project called SexyPlant created a genetically modified tobacco plant that produces and releases the sex pheromones of the cotton bollworm and navel orangeworm, both larvae of moths. This is now being improved to give bigger yields. The same plant has already been engineered by others to produce ebola antibodies and polio vaccine.
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