Novel semiochemicals for crop protection through synthetic biology

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Chemistry


Due to pressure on available farmland there is an urgent need for sustainably enhancing food crop production. One approach to combat insect pests is to repel or attract them using pheromone or other chemical signal baited traps, keeping them away from high-value crops.

Past attempts at the rational design of artificial insect pheromones have failed largely due to the highly specific nature of recognition processes in insects. Recently we have succeeded in producing modified aphid repellents/attractants through a strategic chemoenzymatic approach. One compound in particular proved to be a strong aphid attractant in small-scale laboratory experiments.

We intend to produce more of this compound to test its efficacy in field simulations and also to explore the activity of some new closely related compounds. Furthermore we will seek to commercialise the invention with prospective business partners.


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Demiray M (2017) An Efficient Chemoenzymatic Synthesis of Dihydroartemisinic Aldehyde. in Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English)

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Johnson LA (2020) Modular Chemoenzymatic Synthesis of Terpenes and their Analogues. in Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English)

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Radadiya A (2020) Characterizing human odorant signals: insights from insect semiochemistry and in silico modelling. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

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Tang X (2017) Optimising Terpene Synthesis with Flow Biocatalysis. in European journal of organic chemistry

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Tang X (2018) Concise synthesis of artemisinin from a farnesyl diphosphate analogue. in Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry

Description We have synthesised a range of new derivatives of a lead compound discovered during a previous award that received IP protection and we have worked to improve the scale at which these compounds can be synthesised. This work won Super Follow-On Funding from the BBSRC and has been succeeded by a further project aimed at taking this material to field trials.

This work also led to several incidental publications as we worked to understand and improve the substrate selectivity of terpene cyclases for substrate analogues, including analogues that led to a truncated route to artemisinin.
Exploitation Route We have received IP protection for molecules synthesised in the course of this award and hope to license this property once we have proven its utility in field trials.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Description The chemicals developed during this work are currently being tested for their ability to protect lettuce crops from insect pests. We hope to use a push-pull system to protect plants without having to treat the crop itself.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Description Super Follow-on Fund
Amount £551,216 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/R019681/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2018 
End 04/2020
Description Rothamstead Research 
Organisation Rothamsted Research
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided research materials.
Collaborator Contribution They have provided testing facilities and expertise.
Impact Novel Olfactory Ligands via Terpene Synthases Sabrina Touchet, Keith Chamberlain, Christine M. Woodcock, David J. Miller, Michael A. Birkett, John A. Pickett and Rudolf K. Allemann Chem. Commun., 51, 7550-7553 (2015). DOI:10.1039/C5CC01814E
Start Year 2010
Description The invention provides analogues of (S)-germacrene D analogue which have improved insect repellent properties compared to (S)-germacrene D analogue or which have insect attractant properties. 
IP Reference US2018271089 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2018
Licensed Commercial In Confidence
Impact Further development has been supported by Super Follow-On Funding.