Disrupting insects' sense of smell could save crops, human lives: study

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-28 09:28:05|Editor: Liangyu
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CANBERRA, June 28 (Xinhua) -- A team of international scientists led by those at the Australian National University (ANU) have discovered that disrupting insects' unique sense of smell could save millions of dollars' worth of crops as well as countless human lives.

The team found that an insect's sense of smell not only plays a vital role in the transmission of deadly diseases such as malaria, but it also leads come species to food sources, causing huge amounts of damage to vital crops every year.

In a statement on Wednesday, ANU PhD candidate Faisal Younus said the discovery of a "crucial" enzyme could help scientists "disrupt" an insect's sense of smell, which would prevent insects from not only sniffing out food sources, but also from finding a mate, lowering the population and mitigating the damage caused.

"The findings could help us to design better insecticides and find more efficient ways to reduce insect populations so they spread less disease and destroy fewer crops," Younus said on Wednesday.

"An insect's sensory neurons are being cleared constantly at a very fast rate, ensuring their brain is not overloaded with odors."

"For the first time, we have confirmed the involvement of an enzyme that breaks down food odor molecules to help insects smell efficiently, and described the structure of this enzyme. Our study has also shed light on the crucial role the enzyme plays in re-priming the sensory neurons of an insect at a neurological level."

Younus said the results of the study could lead to fewer destroyed crops, he said focusing on negating the effects of the enzyme could one day help authorities better understand fruit flies such as Drosophila suzukii, which have the capacity to cause millions of dollars of damage to crops in Australia.

"(Drosophila suzukii) is a major invasive agricultural pest that Australian government officials label as a serious biosecurity threat or 'megashock' if it ever enters Australia. These fruit flies have the potential to cause millions of dollars of damage in the fruit industry," he said.