Knowledge for a sustainable world

Fifty years of curiosity driven research on pheromone-based communication was celebrated in a recent invited review paper co-authored by Prof Alan Cork, NRI, and colleagues Prof Peter Witzgall (SLU, Sweden) and Philip Kirsch (APTIV, USA) (Sex pheromones and their impact on pest management, Journal of Chemical Ecology, 36, 80-100). The review acknowledged the achievements of chemical ecologists in identifying hundreds of pheromones and other semiochemicals that are now routinely used to monitor and protect plants and animals against insect pests. They estimated that the annual commercial production of lures for monitoring and mass trapping is in the order of tens of millions which are used to treat at least 10 million ha of crops worldwide, while other insect populations are controlled by air permeation and attract-and-kill techniques on at least 1 million ha.

The authors recognised the importance of chemical ecology in developing innovative, environmentally sustainable and cost-effective means of controlling noxious, perennial and invasive pest species given the need to achieve food security for a growing world population threatened by profound changes in climate and loss of biodiversity. Pre- and post-harvest pest control based on semiochemicals contributes to the Millennium Development Goals endorsed by the United Nations to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.

The outstanding impact of pioneering research conducted by NRI on the chemical ecology of animal disease vectors, such as tsetse fly, and crop pests, notably eggplant fruit and shoot borer is highlighted in the review.

NRI researchers remain as committed as ever to the importance of developing technical solutions to insect pest problems and hope to expound those ideals when they host the forthcoming Royal Entomological Society International Symposium on Insect Chemical Ecology: Reception, Integration, Behaviour and Application in September 2011.