Plant chemical weaponry may offer ammunition for pesticides

Goldenrod in a field

Goldenrod (Solidago serotina) produces potent compounds that mess with insect hormones and kill mosquito larvae. 

Bill Hertha/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Plants have lethal weapons against insects. Researchers screened 1,651 plant species and found two— giant goldenrod (Solidago serotina) and spicebush (Lindera erythrocarpa) — that make five different compounds that could be used to combat insect pests, scientists report January 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The chemicals the plants release disrupt receptors for juvenile hormone, which facilitates aspects of development in young insects and plays roles in reproduction and physiology. In lab experiments, low doses of the five  compounds effectively killed mosquito larvae and could become the basis for a new class of potent, safe pesticides, the researchers suggest.

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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