Pesticides replaced by sex perfume produced by engineered plants

April 25, 2023 | Biology

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Engineered tobacco plants manufacture a captivating scent of insect sex pheromones which confuse pests and leads to the reduction of use for harmful pesticides. Previously, tobacco has been engineered to produce Ebola antibodies and even coronavirus-like particles for use in COVID vaccines.

Researchers at the Earlham Institute in Norwich used gene engineering techniques in turning tobacco plants into solar-powered factories for moth sex pheromones. The production of these molecules are efficiently managed to facilitate normal plant growth.

Cultivators and farmers hang pheromone dispersers but these molecules, which are produced by chemical synthesis, are often expensive and release toxic byproducts. The researchers of this study utilized synthetic biology by creating genetic modules that contain the instructions of building new molecules. They introduced a number of molecular switches to regulate expression.

Moreover, in fine tuning the activity of the genes in terms of timing and the level of expression, they used copper sulfate which is cheap and is a readily-available compound approved for agricultural use. Controlling the production of different pheromone components allows the researchers to tweak the cocktail to better suit particular moth species.

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The development of these plant factories provides a greener and more sustainable alternative in manufacturing complex molecules. Furthermore, using plants in the production of valuable natural products is cheaper.

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