Saturday, October 24, 2009

Use of Female Insect Pheromones as an Alternative Pesticide

Name: Use of female insect pheromones as an alternative pesticide

Location: Ithaca, New York (New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Cornell University)

Years: 1989-present, with a major new breakthrough in 2005

Researcher: Wendell Roelofs

Wendell Roelofs is a lead researcher and professor of insect biochemistry at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Cornell University, and he has been nicknamed “the father of pheromone chemistry”. For the past several decades, he has been working with insect pheromones as an alternative to conventional chemical pesticides. In 1989, he had his first breakthrough while working with the grape moth. In an attempt to prevent damage done to crops by the grape moth, researchers placed ties laced with female grape moth pheromones around the vineyard. Without harming the moths, these pheromones confused the male moth’s reproductive cycle enough so they couldn’t lay the larvae that caused most of the crop damage.

In 2005, Roelofs and his colleagues had another breakthrough, this time with the German cockroach, which is the most common type of cockroach in North America and is responsible for substantial food damage, both in the fields as well as in storage in factories. The German cockroach also carries bacteria that can contribute to many diseases. Roelofs learned how to isolate the pheromones of the female German cockroach and create a synthetic version. The new isolated female pheromone technology & synthetic version has drawn interest from several major corporations who wish to use this as an insecticide or a trap; the technology has been patented and is licensed to several manufacturers of cockroach bait.

The use of insect pheromones as an alternative to chemical pesticides is still in the earlier phases of research, but it is a promising idea that has a lot of potential for future use in crop fields on a larger scale. It is much less harmful to our environment than chemical pesticides are.

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