Chemical study of insect-plant interactions: a contribution to biorational control of crop pests

Lead Research Organisation: Keele University
Department Name: Faculty of Natural Sciences

Abstract

New solutions for managing insect pests are urgently needed due to evolution of resistance to current insecticides. This project focuses on development and bioactivity testing of novel nanotech formulations of plant secondary metabolites that could provide new options for crop protection. The Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) group has strong preliminary data showing that nanotech formulations of certain plant flavonoids complexed with Mg (II) substantially reduce growth of insects. Preliminary experiments done by the Keele University (KU) group with PAA (poly(allylamine)) nanotech formulations of essential oils have shown highly significant repellent action, with greatly enhanced activity compared to conventionally formulated material. UK-Brazil collaboration would provide an ideal opportunity to strengthen this new and promising area of research. The project includes Workshops and exchange visits to build a research network between the groups. Both groups will share expertise and work together to create novel nanotech formulations of plant secondary metabolites (flavonoids such as Hesperidin and Naringenin, phenolic acids and essential oils). Parallel experiments will be conducted testing activity against selected insects, chosen due to their relevance to Brazilian agriculture and insecticide resistance challenges. Bioassays with Western flower thrips, Frankliniella occidentalis, and peach-potato aphid, Myzus persicae, will be conducted at KU; with whitefly, Bemisia tabaci, at São Paulo State University (UNESP), and with fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda at UFSCar. Antibiotic, antifeedant and repellent activity will be tested for using established methods. The experiments conducted in the pump-priming project will reveal the potential for use of nanotechnology to improve the formulation of plant secondary metabolites for use against insects. The project will benefit from the expertise in the KU School of Pharmacy Co-I who has considerable expertise in development of nanotech formulations for the medical sector. We will consider the extent to which low cost technologies already developed for medicines can be translated into the agricultural field. In addition to the programme of empirical research, we will also conduct a literature review of the area and submit this to a high quality scientific journal as a contribution to knowledge. We think there is considerable potential for cross-fertilisation between the disciplines involved in the project (chemistry, medicine and entomology). This has potential to allow agricultural formulation technology to "leapfrog" into nanotechnology by using approaches already developed for Medicine. Furthermore, there will, of course, be insights gained by sharing insights with the Brazilian scientists who are at the forefront of the development of nanotechnology for crop protection. The project has considerable potential to generate much needed new tools for managing insect pests of crops.

The project will allow us to test the hypothesis that bioactivity of plant secondary metabolites can be enhanced by delivery via novel nanotech formulations.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit from this research?

The research would benefit the farmers and the farming industry by developing new tools for managing pests. Currently, crop protection products are being lost to resistance or changes in legislation at a far faster rate than new treatments are being developed. This means that farmers urgently need new solutions. Insect pests cause annual losses of US$17.7 billion to the Brazilian economy with average annual losses estimated at 7.7% of total crop production. The insect species focussed on by the project (Western flower thrips, peach-potato aphid, silverleaf whitefly and fall armyworm) are chosen due to their relevance to Brazilian agriculture and insecticide resistance challenges.

How might they benefit from this research?

The pump-priming project is designed to meet a real need for innovation in crop protection by exploring how nanotechnology may enhance the bioactivity of plant secondary metabolites. We envisage that the project will make an excellent contribution to the development of new approaches for crop protection that are based on plant secondary metabolites delivered through novel nanotech formulations. The farmers would obtain the new tools and there would be a business opportunity for agricultural companies interested in manufacturing the new products.

Although it is a relatively small pump-priming project, it will address a generic challenge in agriculture: crop varieties that were bred for yield and test often lack the secondary metabolites wild plants use for protection against pests or diseases. By providing a mechanism for delivering bioactive plant secondary metabolites, in a controlled way, the project would help to reduce the vulnerability of crops to attacking pests.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Our collaborative research is geared towards providing novel tools to manage insect pests of crops. In particular, we are testing the hypothesis that performance of plant secondary metabolites against pests can be enhanced by nanoformulation or by preparing complexes of molecules.

A strong three-way collaboration between Keele (UK), UFSCar (Brazil) and UNESP (Brazil) was initiated by the pump-priming project that has already delivered:
• Two productive joint research workshops (UFSCar, May 2018; Keele, October 2018)
• Scientific progress both in delivery systems and bioactivity testing of phytochemical formulations
• A postgraduate course on insect pest management (26 students at UFSCar, May 2018)
• Three postdoc exchanges (> I month each) scheduled during remainder of Stage 1
• Transfer of technology between groups and from medicine/pharmacy to the agricultural field.

Experimental data were gathered between the two workshops: Novel nanoformulations and complexes of molecules were created at the Keele School of Pharmacy and at UFSCar. Bioassays were conducted at all three research organisations.

Scientific progress in delivery systems for phytochemicals:
• Nanoformulation and complexes were shown to solve low solubility issues
• Longevity of release increased and phytotoxicity alleviated by PAA (poly(allylamine))
nanoformulation
• Systemic uptake by plants with root drench treatment (nanoformulation and complex)
• Biodegradable nanoformulations created (chitosan-cholesteryl)

Scientific progress in testing bioactivity of formulations against major crop pests relevant to Brazil:
• Bioassays were developed and optimised for aphids (Myzus persicae), thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis), whiteflies (Bemisia tabaci) and fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda)
• We tested PAA nanoformulations of 9 essential oils and 6 pure phytochemcials for activity
against insects. Of these, peppermint and garlic were the best performing essential oils and allyl disulphide the best performing pure compound. Peppermint and garlic essential oils also significantly reduced F. occidentalis survival (P < 0.001), causing over 90% mortality. The active component in garlic oil was shown to be allyl disulphide.
• Reproduction of M. persicae was reduced to near zero with peppermint, garlic and allyl disulphide PAA nanoformulations.
• Hesperidin and isovanillic acid complexes were tested and performed well against S. frugiperda and B. tabaci but phenanthroline was required for antibiotic activity because free hesperidin and isovanillic acid were not active.
• We reviewed promising compounds in the literature and sourced 25 pure compounds and now have data on their biological activity against aphids.

Our shared vision is to develop novel formulations that add phytochemicals from non-host plants to crops to protect them from pests. The underpinning hypothesis, emerging from the first workshop, was that our formulations could provide a means to "outsource" defensive phytochemicals. Herbivore insects are more likely to be susceptible to the defensive chemistry produced by plants on which they have not evolved because they are adapted only to the metabolites produced by the plants on which they have evolved. Our approach is to develop new ways (nanoformulations and complexes) of applying defensive metabolites from other plant species to crops.
Exploitation Route The stage 2 project will continue to make progress with formulation development and bioassay-guided optimisation of active ingredients. It will also conduct environmental and target specificity assessment. Our concept of using phytochemicals that have evolved for plant defence has some similarity with breeding crops for resistance but our approach is different because it can use phytochemicals which are outside the metabolome available in the gene pool of inbred crops and thus provides access to metabolites that crop pests have not evolved with.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Creative Economy,Education,Environment,Security and Diplomacy

 
Description Under consideration by commercial companies
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Creative Economy,Environment,Security and Diplomacy
 
Description COMMONS SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE - Secured New Government inquiry into "the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity"
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Successfully securing this inquiry will have an impact in raising awareness and improving political will to use science and technology to address challenges to food security and biodiversity. Agriculture has been neglected since the last Green Revolution in the 1960s and 21st Century challenges need to be taken more seriously. The Commons STC is a high level committee overseeing delivery of science across all government departments. While the inquiry has not yet been launched, I am confident that it will make a difference to the areas highlighted above. Here is our University press release, which has more details: "Professor Toby Bruce has secured a full Government inquiry into the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity, following his successful pitch to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in January. Professor Bruce's pitch was one of just four chosen to be taken forward as a full Government inquiry. The committee has combined Professor Bruce's recommendations on food security and crop protection with a related topic on gene editing techniques from Nicola Patron of the Earlham Institute. A report published this week by the Science and Technology Committee said: "Professor Toby Bruce suggested that we should hold an inquiry into food security, the environment and crop protection. He suggested that an inquiry could look at the tools available to farmers to protect crops against pests, weeds and diseases, how these had changed over time, what changes were needed to ensure food security in the future and research investment in crop protection. We will incorporate this into an inquiry into the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity." Professor Bruce said: "I am delighted that 'My Science Inquiry' is being taken forward to a full inquiry and look forward to working with the Commons Science and Technology Committee. There is an urgent need for increased research and innovation to help improve food security and protect the environment. I hope that the forthcoming inquiry will be a catalyst for change and will help to address some serious limitations that currently impede our innovation system, particularly with respect to providing new options for protecting harvests from pests". During the presentation of his research, Professor Bruce said: "The choice we have at the moment is having to choose between food security and the environment, so we need to find a way forward in which we can safeguard our crops without environmental impact, partly through smarter regulation to bring more inventions into the market. There is a critical shortage of new treatments but there's also underinvestment in this area. It's a major challenge that we face this century, how do we feed the world without wrecking the environment in the process." The Commons Science and Technology Committee will launch their inquiry into the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity within the next 12 months."
URL http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/science-and-technology-co...
 
Description Novel botanical formulations for treatment of virus vectors
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Funding ID GCRF Connected Virus network (pump-priming awards) 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2019 
End 03/2020
 
Description Novel delivery of phytochemicals for sustainable crop protection
Amount £244,535 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/S018948/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2019 
End 04/2021
 
Description Novel delivery of phytochemicals for sustainable crop protection (BB/S018948/1)
Amount £302,000 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/S018948/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2019 
End 04/2021
 
Title olfactometeR 
Description Developed an R package for recording insect behaviour in olfactometer bioassay experiments. This tool is largely designed to replace outdated or expensive software packages. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact It is difficult to gauge notable impacts at this stage due to still being in beta testing. 
URL https://github.com/Dr-Joe-Roberts/olfactometeR
 
Description Harper Adams University 
Organisation Harper Adams University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Sharing of facilities and expertise
Collaborator Contribution Sharing of facilities and expertise
Impact We have applied for a new £5M collaborative research centre and have been invited to a stage two application that we are currently waiting for the decision on (Research England E3 initiative) We have an existing joint research project, BB/R021708/1, "Biological crop protection: a new 'slow down/speed up' strategy for aphid management"
Start Year 2017
 
Description International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) 
Organisation International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
Country Nigeria 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Sharing expertise and new treatments for use against insect pests
Collaborator Contribution Testing of novel material against insects in Tanzania and Nigeria
Impact Connected Virus GCRF pump-priming project
Start Year 2018
 
Description Novel botanical formulations for treatment of virus vectors 
Organisation International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
Country Nigeria 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Exploration of whether the nanoformulations we are developing work against whitefly, aphid and spider mite pests in Africa
Collaborator Contribution Collaboration facilitated by CONNECTED Virus GCRF network
Impact There are some promising preliminary results: a nano formulation of one of the essential oils substantially reduced spider mite egg laying and increased mortality.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Sao Paulo State University (UNESP, Brazil) 
Organisation Sao Paulo State University
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are providing test material for testing against insect pests as novel control treatments
Collaborator Contribution Information about susceptibility of whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) and fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) to novel phytochemical treatments
Impact Stage 2 BBSRC Newton Fund award
Start Year 2018
 
Description Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCar, Brazil) 
Organisation Federal University of Sao Carlos
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution There is strong synergy between partners in this collaboration. The plant product formulation expertise at UFSCar is different from, but complimentary to, the medical expertise at the School of Pharmacy at Keele, bringing both metallo-complexing and nanoformulation technologies to be incorporated into this project, which increases the chances of success.
Collaborator Contribution There is strong synergy between partners in this collaboration. The plant product formulation expertise at UFSCar is different from, but complimentary to, the medical expertise at the School of Pharmacy at Keele, bringing both metallo-complexing and nanoformulation technologies to be incorporated into this project, which increases the chances of success.
Impact Stage 2 Newton Fund award
Start Year 2018
 
Description Association of Applied Biologists: Advances in IPM conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Organised and chaired Association of Applied Biologists: Advances in IPM conference Organised and chaired
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Biopesticide Summit, Swansea, 2-3 July 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gave a keynote, invited talk: "The role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://biopesticidesummit.com
 
Description CONGRATULATIONS TO PROFESSOR TOBY BRUCE'S GROUP 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Keele Website
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.keele.ac.uk/lifesci/news/2018/november/congratulationstoprofessortobybrucesgroup/food-se...
 
Description Innovate UK Biopesticides event, Invited plenary lecture, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Innovate UK Biopesticides event, Invited plenary lecture, London, 12 April 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited Seminar at Newcastle University (3 April 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited Seminar at Newcastle University
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited Seminar at University of Warwick (2 May 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited Seminar at University of Warwick (2 May 2019)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Lecture on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Delivered a lecture on integrated pest management and these projects were used as examples to demonstrate the cutting edge research being done in crop protection.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019,2020
 
Description Lecture to General Public 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gave an hour long presentation on exploiting chemical ecology to produce healthy crops for the general public at a local museum's science communication event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description News Item in The Guardian 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact News Article about pesticides and crop protection in The Guardian
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/14/miniature-robots-could-cut-pesticide-use-on-farm...
 
Description News Item: Scientists search for sustainable solutions to stop the fall armyworm 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact News Article in Africa News (a multilingual news media service, headquartered in Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.africanews.com/2018/09/05/scientists-search-for-sustainable-solutions-to-stop-the-fall-ar...
 
Description News item in Farmers Weekly 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Interview with Johann Tasker about appearance before Commons Science and Technology Committee in Parliament and subsequent article in Farmers Weekly
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.fwi.co.uk/arable/crop-management/politicians-face-critical-choice-on-food-security-warns...
 
Description News item: Experts warn against spread of fall armyworm 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact News item in eNCA (
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.enca.com/news/experts-warn-against-spread-fall-armyworm
 
Description Postgraduate short course on plant protection (Brazil) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A 3 day postgraduate short course on Plant Protection at UNESP, Brazil, February 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Reuters VIDEO: Scientists search for sustainable solutions to stop the fall armyworm 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Reuters filmed interview and online broadcast
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.reuters.com/video/2018/08/29/scientists-search-for-sustainable-soluti?videoId=459280539&...
 
Description UK Vector Borne Diseases conference, John Innes Centre, 4 Dec 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gave a talk at UK Vector Borne Diseases conference, John Innes Centre, 4 Dec 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description postgraduate short course on insect pest management 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A postgraduate short course on insect pest management (26 students at UFSCar, Brazil, May 2018)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018