The first crop plant genetically engineered to release an insect pheromone for defence

Toby J. A. Bruce, Gudbjorg I Aradottir, Lesley E. Smart, Janet L. Martin, John C. Caulfield, Angela Doherty, Caroline A. Sparks, Christine M. Woodcock, Michael A. Birkett, Johnathan A. Napier, Huw D Jones, John A. Pickett

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Insect pheromones offer potential for managing pests of crop plants. Volatility and instability are problems for deployment in agriculture but could be solved by expressing genes for the biosynthesis of pheromones in the crop plants. This has now been achieved by genetically engineering a hexaploid variety of wheat to release (E)-β-farnesene (Eβf), the alarm pheromone for many pest aphids, using a synthetic gene based on a sequence from peppermint with a plastid targeting amino acid sequence, with or without a gene for biosynthesis of the precursor farnesyl diphosphate. Pure Eβf was produced in stably transformed wheat lines with no other detectable phenotype but requiring targeting of the gene produced to the plastid. In laboratory behavioural assays, three species of cereal aphids were repelled and foraging was increased for a parasitic natural enemy. Although these studies show considerable potential for aphid control, field trials employing the single and double constructs showed no reduction in aphids or increase in parasitism. Insect numbers were low and climatic conditions erratic suggesting the need for further trials or a closer imitation, in the plant, of alarm pheromone release.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11183
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Issue numberN/A
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2015


  • field trials
  • metabolic engineering
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Pyrophosphatases/genetics
  • Seedlings/metabolism
  • Plants, Genetically Modified/growth & development
  • Volatile Organic Compounds/analysis
  • Geranyltranstransferase/genetics
  • Sesquiterpenes/analysis
  • Animals
  • Pheromones/metabolism
  • Behavior, Animal/drug effects
  • Aphids/physiology
  • Triticum/growth & development
  • Plastids/metabolism


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