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Using endocrine control in insects to develop new approaches for crop protection

Posted on 23/11/2018

KTN is playing a key role in stakeholder engagement for an innovative crop protection project.

Pesticides have a significant role to play in increasing agricultural production around the world and improving food safety. However, due to increasing awareness of potential adverse effects of pesticides on the safety of foods and on the environment, regulatory bodies in the EU are now placing restrictions on their use. This in turn limits the range of chemicals that farmers can use to control pests and disease.

The EU funded project nEUROSTRESSPEP aims to develop novel, insect species specific biocontrol agents based on the use of peptides that interfere with pest insect neurological functions while leaving non-pest species unaffected. nEUROSTRESSPEP is a Horizon 2020 project, funded by the European Union and coordinated by Professor Shireen Davies at the University of Glasgow.

The consortium of 14 partners covers the full spectrum from research lab to test field, including world-leading researchers, European companies, government agencies and knowledge sharing networks. The project benefits from the expertise of neuroscientists, ecologists, entomologists, biochemists, chemists, physiologists, commercial companies, as well as communication and dissemination experts.

KTN is a project partner in nEUROSTRESSPEP, providing advice on market needs and feedback for the product design process and playing a key role in communications, stakeholder engagement, exploration of exploitation routes, dissemination and IP management. Most recently KTN has coordinated the publication of a project brochure.

Using cutting-edge science to combat crop pests

The nEUROSTRESSPEP project uses cutting-edge scientific advances to combat insects that cause severe damage to vitally important EU and global crops. This meets the urgent need for novel, specific approaches to control insect pests in light of the increased prevalence of insect resistance to existing pesticides, as well as forthcoming legislation, which will limit the use of current insecticides.

Neuropeptides (or peptide hormones) regulate key biological processes in all vertebrate animals, including insects. Hormonal neuropeptides regulate many aspects of insect physiology and development, including feeding, growth, and reproductive behaviour. These neuropeptides can selectively disrupt specific physiological processes, and thus reduce survival and reproduction of target (pest) species. These “special agents” or their synthetic analogues, mimetics, agonists or antagonists may be more effective tools in combating insect pests in an environmentally sound manner than the use of conventional pesticides.

The project aims to develop novel agents that will target specific pest insects of cereals, horticultural crops, vegetables and forestry. You can find out more about the various aspects of the project on the nEUROSTRESSPEP website or by downloading the project brochure.

What has been achieved?

The project has delivered the most complete database for insect neuropeptides to date, new ‘omics pipelines and technologies for assessment of neuropeptides and their function and candidate neuropeptides for exploitation as novel biopesticides in downstream work packages.

The project partners have generated a priority-list of functional candidate neuropeptides for development as peptide analogues. High priority candidates were selected based on several criteria including: biorationality, lethality, selectivity, production cost and formulation, end user needs and existing IP.

The analysis of susceptible and important crops, and emerging pests in agriculture, horticulture and forestry, has validated the chosen targets for pests for which new control methods will be of great value. Prioritised candidates were synthesized and their activity was tested on a variety of insects in vivo, and on some functions in vitro. The data to date have revealed a number of active analogues that had an effect on insects ability to tolerate starvation, desiccation or cold shock stress, affected feeding as well as developmental and reproductive behaviour.

Exploiting the outcomes of the nEUROSTRESSPEP project

The nEUROSTRESSPEP project is now in final stages and is presenting some some exciting opportunities for exploitation of its outcomes.

If your organisation is involved in regulation, manufacture, distribution or use of crop protection products, and you would like to discuss opportunities revealed by the nEUROSTRESSPEP research, please contact Dr Jayne Brookman (Head of Agri-Food at KTN) or Dr Liliya Serazetdinova (Knowledge Transfer Manager, Agri-Food).

nEUROSTRESSPEP is hosting a stakeholder workshop in Brussels in early February 2019 in order to share key outcomes of the project, and facilitate engagement with wider stakeholders, aiding development of exploitation routes for novel biocontrol agents developed by the project. The workshop is strictly by invitation only, but if you feel that you could make a valuable contribution to the meeting and would like to discuss your possible participation please contact Dr Liliya Serazetdinova.

 

nEUROSTRESSPEP has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 634361

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