Institute for Integrative Genome Biology

Discovering Safe Repellents to Protect Fruit

IIGB scientists have now identified a safe repellent that protects ripening fruits from the spotted wing Drosophila suzukii. The finding, when extrapolated to other agricultural pests, could provide a strategy for controlling them and increasing the productivity of crops and fruit.

Insects destroy a very large fraction of the global agricultural output – nearly 40 percent. A nuisance especially in Northern California and Europe, Drosophila suzukii lays its eggs inside ripe berries, and, when its larvae emerge there, the fruit is destroyed. As a result, each year D. suzukii causes hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of agricultural damage worldwide.

Butyl anthranilate (BA) is a pleasant-smelling chemical compound produced naturally in fruits in small amounts. In their lab experiments, the scientists found BA warded off D. suzukii from blueberries coated with it. Study results appear June 22, 20156 in Scientific Reports, an online and open-access Nature publication.

“Toxic insecticides are often risky to use directly on fruits – especially when they are close to being harvested,” said Anandasankar Ray, an associate professor of entomology and the director of the IIGB Center for Disease Vector Research, whose lab performed the research project. To test whether BA can protect fruit from D. suzukii, Ray and his graduate student Christine Krause Pham conducted a series of experiments using two bowls of fresh, ripe blueberries – a preferred fruit of D. suzukii. They applied BA to blueberries in one bowl and solvent on the blueberries in the second bowl (the latter served as the control). They placed the bowls in a glass chamber and exposed them to D. suzukii for a week, repeating the experiment subsequently for a variety of BA concentrations. They found a clear dose-dependent decrease in the number of larvae and pupae emerging from the BA-treated blueberries.

Found in low concentrations in a number of fruit, BA smells like grapes and is commonly used as a flavor and fragrance component. It belongs to a category called generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and is approved for human consumption as a food additive. “We hope that BA and other similar chemicals we have in our portfolio will be able to work against the Asian citrus psyllid, Mediterranean fruit flies, whiteflies and other flies that can damage fruits and crops,” Ray said. “In the future we can begin developing repellents for agricultural use that could cover fruits, crops like wheat and corn, and produce. The long-term grand vision is that one day we will be able to integrate safe naturally-occurring repellents into the repertoire of farmers to reduce their dependence on insecticides. It is conceivable also that similar chemicals and approaches could be developed to protect homes, humans and farm animals.”

Last year, the UCR Office of Technology Commercialization helped Ray launch a company, Sensorygen Inc., around this technology. The office has filed a patent on the technology reported in the research paper, which has been licensed to Sensorygen Inc.

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