"Pest insects have a profound negative impact on agriculture and human health," says Rockefeller University's Leslie Vosshall, Ph.D. "They are responsible for global losses of crops and stored agricultural products as well as the spread of many diseases."
In the heated battle between people and insect pests, Vosshall and colleagues, in collaboration with the biotech company Sentigen Biosciences, Inc., report in the February 22nd issue of Current Biology that an understanding of insects' sense of smell may finally give humans the upper hand.
The researchers studied four very different insect species: a benign insect favored by researchers, the fruit fly, which is attracted to rotting fruit, and three pest insects: the medfly, which is a citrus pest; the corn earworm moth, which damages corn, cotton and tomato crops; and the malaria mosquito, which targets humans. They found that one gene, shown to be responsible for the sense of smell in fruit flies, has the same function in these pest insects, which are separated by over 250 million years evolution
"While all these insects have sensitive olfactory systems, they all have very different smell preferences," says Vosshall, head of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior. "Yet this odorant receptor is highly conserved across all of these different species."
Vosshall's laboratory previously published research demonstrating that out of 62 odorant receptors in the fruit fly, only a single one, named Or83b, was essential the sense of smell in fruit flies. When they removed the gene, the mutant flies couldn't smell a wide variety of different odors. The scientists then examined the fruit fly's 61 other odorant receptors and found that the proteins never made it to the ends of the olfactory neurons, called dendrites, where th
Contact: Kristine Kelly