For stink bugs to attract a mate or to communicate that they have found food, they use their own chemical language: pheromones. Virginia Tech researchers have discovered insights into this chemical language, which can be used to develop alternative pest controls. "We have gained a deeper understanding of how stink bugs synthesize pheromones, and this knowledge may allow us to produce pheromones in expendable food crops - also called 'trap crops' - to lure the bugs away from cash crops," said Dr. Dorothea Tholl, a Professor of Biological Sciences in the College of Science and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate. These new environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives to insecticides could save farmers millions of dollars. In Virginia, crops such as grapes, sweet corn, and apples, have been under attack by the invasive brown marmorated stink bug (image) since 2004; cabbage has also been affected, but by the harlequin stink bug. A relative, the southern green stinkbug is also a severe pest worldwide and attacks many different crops including beans and soybeans. Dr. Tholl is interested in the chemical communication of organisms and studies how this chemical language has evolved in insects. With support by a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, her lab investigates the enzymes that produce stinkbug pheromones in an interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues at Virginia Tech and national and international institutions. Her team's research has recently been published in PNAS. "Our recent paper provides valuable insight into our understanding of how insects synthesize complex sesquiterpene compounds that are typically used as pheromones.
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