Chemical ecology of pest and beneficial arthropods : Understanding and exploiting semiochemical based mechanisms

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Unlisted


Chemical ecology is the study of interactions between organisms as mediated by naturally produced chemical signals (semiochemicals) that transmit information both within and between species. Semiochemicals act by non-toxic mechanisms and the project investigates how these can repel pest insects and attract their natural enemies. The project defines the biological occurrence and role of semiochemicals. It focuses on interactions of pest insects with their hosts and beneficial insects and how blends of volatiles are used for host recognition by insects as well as avoidance of non-hosts. Insect neurophysiology, particularly relating to olfaction, is used to study the basis of host location. Our pest targets are primarily phytophagous insects that damage crops but also include haematophagous insects of medical and veterinary significance. Advanced analytical and electrophysiological techniques are used to study semiochemicals at the very low levels produced by plants and insects and specialised bioassays determine their effects on insect behaviour and plant defence. Plant hosts of phytophagous insects are not passive victims and possess natural defence mechanisms that act directly against pests and indirectly by tritrophic interactions with predators and parasitoids. Thus plant defence can be induced or primed by treatment of plants with activator semiochemicals. Primed plants elicit accentuated and more rapid defence responses when subsequently attacked but defence is not constitutively upregulated. Semiochemicals are deployed in the field after preliminary studies in the laboratory. Strategies for utilising semiochemicals for insect pest management at the field level include switching on plant defence with plant activators, manipulation of host location cues in 'push-pull' systems, deployment of aphid alarm pheromone signals and development of trapping systems based on attractive semiochemicals.


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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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Birkett MA (2014) Prospects of genetic engineering for robust insect resistance. in Current opinion in plant biology

Description That by identifying and developing production of arthropod semiochemicals for management of pests and those providing ecosystem services, field trials can be conducted that demonstrate the potential of such semiochemicals in developing new sustainable management of current constraints in agriculture. In uplift work, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the delivery of semiochemicals by companion cropping, eg in the push-pull system, has been proven to be of value on farm and creates a precedent for developing use of semiochemicals by GM for sustainable agricultural practices in the UK and other commercially developed regions.
Exploitation Route The demonstration of the success in sub-Saharan Africa is paving the way for more extensive management of constraints on agriculture by the scientifically based deployment of companion crops. This work creates a precedent also for delivering such technologies by genetic modification of crop plants and plants providing eco system services as a new generation of GM technologies.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Healthcare