The future of pest control is not killing insects. It’s disrupting their mating patterns
Modern agricultural practices involving the extensive use of GMO crops and chemical insecticides create an environment with less genetic and biological variation in order to maximise the yield of agricultural products. But with insect resistance to pesticides growing, the need for new pest control technology is becoming urgent.
The main effect of most chemical insecticides is to simply kill insects through different toxic effects. This is highly efficient in terms of short-term crop yield, but the design works against the basic forces of nature. Short-term, the method is effective at reducing the number of pests, which is positive. However, chemical insecticides can also kill the natural predators of the crop pests, thus reducing the level of control by those beneficial insects, which is negative. Other unintended negative effects include the harm done to other beneficial insects, such as bees, and to the general degradation of biodiversity. This would not be a problem in a small isolated field, but it becomes a systemic problem when the practices are used on the very large land areas cultivated by modern row crops.
When a large amount of food, such as corn, is available in an environment with almost no biological competition due to the application of insecticides, it creates a very powerful driver for pests to evolve and for insecticide resistance to occur. This is exactly what happens in many crops today. The single pest that evolves resistance has an enormous advantage over all others, and will develop a large population in the field, which in turn can severely damage the crops, and which can no longer be controlled using insecticides.
A smarter way of controlling pests
Pheromone-based mating disruption provides a smarter way of controlling pests. Instead of working against the forces of nature, we use natural ingredients – the insects’ own pheromones – to significantly reduce mating among the pests. This stops them from reaching damaging levels while leaving other insects unaffected. Pheromones and mating-disruption solutions do not create an evolutionary pressure towards resistance because there will still be a reduced level of breeding among the pests, and there will not be a single genetic trait or mutation that will provide a given insect a distinct advantage.
Resistance to insecticides renders the conventional crop protection methods ineffective. Pheromones can be used as a preventive measure in the field leaving chemical insecticides as the last-resort option. This will delay the onset of resistance and help minimise the use of crop protection chemicals.