In 2012 global pesticide use cost $45 billion, and is expected to reach $65 billion in 2017. Even with eco-consciousness at the forefront of debates on pesticides and human food, the fact is insects and disease account for 40 percent of crop loss each year. And because certain specimens can often become resistant to a particular chemical, such as Termite Byte, sometimes even these pesticides can’t fix the problem.
That’s why scientists are excited to have possibly found another way to beat insect pests without using harmful chemicals and fracturing the natural order of “good” insects. An international collaboration of researchers and scientists led by the University of Glasgow plan to create a new kind of organic pesticide using artificial neuropeptides. These are the protein-like molecules which allow neurons to communicate with each other and influence the activity of the brain.
The project, called nEUROSTRESSPEP, will target moths, aphids, locusts, flies and beetles, which are known to eat through crops and spread dangerous plant viruses every year. Each species has a particular weakness that the collective hope to target while sparing beneficial insects any harm.
Moths, for instance, use pheromones to attract mates and communicate where food is located. Locusts’ swarming behavior is based largely on their internal fat mobilization and therefore their fitness. These factors can be altered using artificial neuropeptides, and can thereby minimize or stop the species from attacking crops in certain regions.
“A big reason for the emergence of pest insects is climate change which is driving the spread of ‘alien’ pests to parts of the world where they wouldn’t normally be found,” Professor Julian Dow, a member of the Glasgow team, said in a statement from the University. “Until recently the default position was to simply obliterate the insects with pesticides. Now we are more focused on reducing the population of pests which we mustn’t forget have their own place in the eco-system.”
“Neuropeptide-based insect control agents should be greener than current pesticides and may not cause resistance in insects.”