Chemical ecology of pest and beneficial arthropods : Identification, biosynthesis and scaled production of pheromones and other semiochemicals

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Unlisted


Chemical ecology is the study of interactions between organisms that are mediated by chemicals produced naturally. This is a platform project that characterises, at the molecular level, and produces, by synthesis or biotechnological means, chemical signals acting by non-toxic mechanisms, i.e. pheromones and other semiochemicals that affect the behaviour and/or development of pest and beneficial organisms, principally insects affecting plant, animal and human health, but also including certain pathogens and weeds. Advanced analytical techniques are used to study very low levels of compounds produced by insects and their hosts. Where appropriate, electrophysiological preparations from insect antennae, including single neuron recordings, are coupled to high resolution gas chromatography for location of physiological activity in samples, for which behavioural activity is established. Tentative molecular structures are proposed using mass spectrometry (MS) and nuclear magnetic spectroscopy (NMR), either by coupling to high resolution gas chromatography or liquid chromatography, or by preparative GC/HPLC isolation prior to microprobe NMR analysis. Authentic compounds are obtained by synthesis or isolation from other natural sources, e.g. by extraction, or by chemical/genetic modification of plant-derived material, and molecular characteristics are confirmed by either MS and/or NMR. Confirmation of activity of the authentic chemical products is provided by behavioural studies. Scaled-up synthesis/extraction of products is undertaken for provision of materials for larger scale biological studies, including field deployment. Following confirmation of identity and activity, the biosynthesis of semiochemicals is then investigated, typically by the synthesis of putative biosynthetic precursors incorporating isotope labelling, and incubation of labelled materials with natural material, either in vivo or in vitro. Labelled metabolites are then characterised using MS and/or NMR.


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Anderson JA (2016) Emerging Agricultural Biotechnologies for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security. in Journal of agricultural and food chemistry

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De Oliveira Filho JG (2016) Quantification of brown dog tick repellents, 2-hexanone and benzaldehyde, and release from tick-resistant beagles, Canis lupus familiaris. in Journal of chromatography. B, Analytical technologies in the biomedical and life sciences

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Douris V (2016) Resistance mutation conserved between insects and mites unravels the benzoylurea insecticide mode of action on chitin biosynthesis. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Description That it is possible by studying the chemical ecology of arthropods acting as pests and beneficial organisms particularly in agriculture to identify and provide the necessary production routes for new tools potentially for crop protection that will eventually be generated sustainably by genetic modification of crop plants and plants providing eco system services. This core finding has been extended by uplift studies and evidence obtained for success against diverse agricultural pests.
Exploitation Route In the wider development of sustainable pest, disease and weed management where natural regulatory processes can eventually be exploited by GM.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Healthcare