Conventional insecticides are extremely harmful to the farmer, pollinating insects, and consumers ( residue on fruits and vegetables). Therefore, the world is looking for an alternative, safer way to protect the plants from pest insects. One of them is pheromones .
One of the most promising methods is mating disruption by releasing a small amount of insect sex pheromones to prevent the males from finding the insect females. This way females do not get fertilized and cannot lay eggs that develop into larvae eating the plants. It is a very effective and environmental-friendly technology, but the production of pheromones is quite expensive.
Therefore, scientists from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, DTU, through the EU-funded project OLEFINE, will try to solve the problem by making pheromones cheap enough to be affordable everywhere and in the production of all scales. Currently, they are produced by chemical synthesis, which is expensive and polluting. The scientists propose to use biotechnology: they will produce pheromones by brewing, a much cheaper alternative.
However, they need to work fast, since there is a crisis in Africa, which can be only resolved by a similar solution. The fall armyworm, called so because it eats its way through most of the vegetation as it marches through crops, is native to North and South America but was identified for the first time in Africa last year.
African farmers tried to treat this pest with insecticides, but it has become resistant. So there is an urgent need for a solution because otherwise people will starve. The main challenge right now is bringing down the cost of the technology so the farmers can afford to use it.
Additionally, the discovery of a cheaper way of producing pheromones will save a lot of farmers’ plants since EU decided to ban one of the most used insecticides. Bio-pheromones developed as part of the OLEFINE project will replace pesticides in the management of major pests of grapes, soybean, and cotton.