Aphids - one of the world's most damaging insect pests - spread diseases that cost gardeners and farmers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Some of the insecticides available to combat the pest are not environmentally friendly, and because aphids are developing insecticide resistance, some growers are being forced to use more of the chemicals. Hoping to help control aphids, Agricultural Research Service scientists are tapping into the biochemistry of the aphid to develop a bio-control agent that may help control the pest.
Ronald Nachman, a chemist with the ARS Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center at College Station, Texas, is working with chemical signals known as neuropeptides that aphids and other organisms use to control and regulate a wide range of body functions. Nachman's goal is to kill the pest by disrupting its digestion, water intake or some other biological function.
Through Aphid feeding trials scientists have found that one of the neuropeptide mimics they tested killed 90% to 100% of the aphids within three days at a rate and potency comparable to insecticides now on the market. It appears the mimics are so unique that such a bio-control agent is unlikely to have any effect on humans, plants or other types of organisms.