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Pheromones for ecologically friendly pest control in fruit orchards (EcoFruit)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EcoFRUIT (Pheromones for ecologically friendly pest control in fruit orchards (EcoFruit))

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2019-04-01 al 2021-03-31

The agriculture is under a pressing need for alternatives to insecticides for pest control. The ban of three neonicotinoids used as insecticides was settled in 2018 by the European Union. At the same time, agricultural productivity needs to rise to provide sufficient nutritious food for a growing population. Moreover, a recent study predicts an increase in global yield losses of rice, maize and wheat by 10-25% per degree of global mean surface warming due to increased population growth and metabolic rates of insects.
Pheromones, which are naturally produced by different insect species, represent a health- and environment-friendly alternative to insecticides. Dispensing small amounts of sex pheromones in the fields or orchards confuses males, preventing mating and hence larvae formation. This method is called “mating disruption”.
Pheromones are attractive, because they are biodegradable, species-specific compounds, which neither harm beneficial species nor humans. Nevertheless, pheromones are still not widely used, mainly because of the high costs of synthetic pheromones, labor-intensive application of pheromone dispensers, and lack of knowledge on efficacy of pheromone release methods.
This project, entitled “Pheromones for ecologically friendly pest control in fruit orchards (EcoFruit)”, aimed at the sustainable and cost-efficient production of insect pheromones by fermentation in engineered oleaginous yeasts. The specific focus of EcoFruit was the sex pheromone of the codling moth Cydia pomonella. The pheromone is called codlemone and has the formula E8,E10-dodecadien-1-ol. Availability of lower-cost pheromone will promote its use and will support the development of a long-term sustainable and efficient agricultural sector.
During this project, a yeast cell factory was developed for the production of codlemone by fermentation of cheap renewable feedstocks. Development of the cell factory comprised optimization of the codlemone biosynthetic pathway genes and their expression, as well as increasing the carbon flux towards the product using metabolic engineering approaches. The method for producing codlemone in yeast was IP-protected. The research results were presented at several scientific conferences and at joined meetings with other EU projects. The researcher also contributed to a peer-reviewed publication (Metab Eng. 2020, 62:312-321. doi: 10.1016/j.ymben.2020.10.001).
Pheromones currently used in pest management exclusively result from chemical synthesis, which is a very expensive and unsustainable process. Even though codlemone was one of the first sex pheromones produced synthetically, the cost of chemical synthesis still remains very high. Because of that, the cost of treatment for the farmer is higher than for conventional insecticide spray which makes it unsuitable for conventional farming. By establishing codlemone biosynthesis in a yeast cell factory, the EcoFRUIT project facilitates the possibility for novel biotechnological processes for cost-efficient and sustainable production of this pheromone. By using the results of EcoFRUIT, The European agricultural sector will increase its competitiveness as it will have first-hand access to cheaper pheromones, thus reducing production costs and increasing revenues with enhanced sustainability. Bio-based, cost-efficient production of pheromones in cell factories would make organic farming possible for an increased number of farmers, which in turn would have a positive effect on consumer health.
Sustainable and cheap production of pheromones by yeast fermentation