Is this the end for bug spray?

August 30, 2016

Murdoch University has been awarded a research grant to find out how insects smell food.

Dr Wei Xu

Dr Wei Xu

The study could lead to the next generation of environmentally-friendly insect attractants, repellents and pesticide technology.

Insect biologist Dr Wei Xu is a Lecturer in Entomology at Murdoch’s School of Veterinary and Life Sciences. He’s leading the ground-breaking research project.

Dr Xu explained: “Protecting crops against damage from insect pests and reducing the transmitted diseases and infections they can spread is an ongoing challenge.

“Insects rely on their senses to detect food. This has considerable potential for the development of odour-based behaviour control methods.

“This project will develop new insights into underlying insect smell systems. We hope to identify potential attractant compounds and develop environmentally-safe, insect pest controls.”

Dr Xu is working to identify the scents which attract insects. He will use this information to create environmentally-friendly pest traps, protecting crops and people without the need to use chemical pesticides or repellents.

Food security has become a major global challenge. Protecting Australia’s estimated $20 billion crop industry is critical to the country’s economy.

Dr Xu’s research offers obvious health benefits too, helping to reduce infection and diseases which are transmitted through insect bites.

He has been awarded $372,000 in funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC).

The four year project is underway and is based at Murdoch’s School of Veterinary and Life Sciences.

Dr Xu will also work in collaboration with researchers from Australia and the US, including CSIRO.

His research will try to identify the insect proteins which drive their internal food-finding navigation system. These insect proteins are called odorant binding proteins (OBPs).

The aim of the project is to develop a Reverse Chemical Ecology approach to better understand the molecular mechanisms of insect OBPs, to establish a more efficient and cost-effective method of identifying insect attractants.

Dr Xu added: “The project will offer new opportunities for the development of more environmentally-sustainable pest control strategies to benefit both Australian and global agriculture, human health and environmental sustainability.”

Professor David Morrison is Deputy Vice Chancellor Research & Innovation at Murdoch.

He said: “Dr Xu’s research represents Murdoch University’s approach to translational research, offering solutions to global challenges.

“Food Security and Health Futures are at the core of the University’s research focus and this project can make a difference on a global scale.”

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Media contact: Thomas Smith
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Categories: General, Research, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences Research
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