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Scientists Are Developing 'Sexy Plants' To Protect Crops From Insects

Date: 8.6.2018 

The spread of agricultural intensification has led to a massive increase in the use of pesticides. But this has had hugely damaging effects on the environment, and is thought to be contributing to an insect apocalypse sweeping across the western world. Now scientists may have developed a solution: sexy plants. 
Kredit: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos.

The project aims to engineer plants to produce the sex pheromones of insects. The idea is that these plants – which could then be planted among crops – will release the molecules into the air, confusing and thus disrupting the pests’ attempts to mate. It is hoped that this would mean that farmers would then be able to cut down on their use of harmful chemical pesticides.

The concept behind such a move is not exactly new, as already some farmers spray their fields with the sex pheromones of insects as a way to protect them. The issue with this is that these chemicals have to be manufactured in a factory, which is often pretty costly meaning not many can do it.

But by engineering plants to make these pheromones, researchers at the Earlham Institute in the UK along with a consortium of other institutions hope that this cost can be cut dramatically. Initially, the researchers plan on harvesting the plants and then extracting the pheromones to use in traps hung around fields, but one day it might be possible to plant these engineered plants around and in the crop fields, attracting the female pests and drawing them away from the crops.

Currently, the majority of farming is heavily reliant on pesticides, which harm beneficial insects just as much as they do the pests they are being used to control. This is thought to be what is driving an insect "apocalypse” that's running riot across Europe, and likely many other places.



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