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Novel Plant Tools for Pest Control

Plants naturally create and emit a wide range of volatile compounds that help them attract pollinators and protect them from pathogens, parasites, and herbivores. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists are using these compounds by manipulating their release and concentration. These plants are now being used as part of a “push-pull” system that “repels” and then alternatively “attracts” insect pests in greenhouse tomato crops.

Scientists have already identified plants developed at AAFC-Saskatoon and AAFC-London that overproduce specific volatile compounds which significantly repel or attract several insect pests. They discovered Arabidopsis thaliana (a plant in the mustard family) reduced feeding damage by the crucifer flea beetle and attracted the cabbage looper to lay their eggs on the plant. They also found a tomato plant that attracted two insect pests.

The team is screening combinations of crop and non-host plants in laboratory and greenhouse trials to determine which repellent plants are most effective. The most promising repellent plants, repellent sprays, and attractant plants will also be tested to determine the effectiveness of the “push-pull” at reducing damage caused by whiteflies, cabbage loopers and other herbivore insects on the crop plant.

This research will improve insect control in greenhouse plants, help the industry be more environmentally sustainable, and address pesticide resistance, a major concern in the horticulture sector.

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