Disrupting insects’ sense of smell may save crops and human lives, according to a recent study.
The study conducted by the Australian National University and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation was done to determine how an odorant-degrading enzyme, thought to be present in insect antennae, affects processing of odorants in sensory neurons of an insect’s brain.
‘‘Most importantly the research was carried out to provide us with a highly promising target for manipulating the olfactory-guided behaviours of insects biotechnologically and ultimately allowing us to design environmentally friendly olfactory-based controls for various pest species,’’ lead researcher Faisal Younus said.
The threat of fruit fly damage is a major problem in northern Victoria and Mr Younus said if one particular species came to Australia, it would be trouble.
‘‘It (fruit fly) causes billions of dollars of damage around the world. If you look into recent data coming from the United States, first evaluation of the economic impact of damages caused by a type of fruit fly called Drosophila suzukii indicated that revenue losses due to infestation in strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry and cherry production may exceed US$500million in the three western states of the US — California, Oregon and Washington — alone.
‘‘It will probably decimate the Australian wine industry in a similar scale to that of California if the fly enters the country,’’ Mr Younus said.
Despite this warning, Mr Younus said the research would benefit farmers in the long run.
‘‘In simpler terms, (it will mean) cleaner environmentally friendly farming. Although a few years of work away, developing synthetic molecules to target olfactory organs of insects will be a lot more specific than currently used insecticides.
‘‘We need to develop newer clever molecules not just for new insecticides to combat resistance in pests, but for more specific environmentally friendly insecticides that target damaging insects, while sparing beneficial ones such as honey bees,’’ he said.
‘‘We must also remember that, in many ways, these insects are only a major problem to present farming practices. Until recently the default position was to simply obliterate the insects with pesticides. Now we must focus to use the current advancements of science to our benefit and develop species-specific insecticides,’’ Mr Younus said.