by Michael Keller
A massive screening effort that sifted through more than 1,600 plant species has discovered a handful of compounds that could make the next generation of safe insecticides.
An international research team isolated five metabolites from two types of plant that counteract hormones found only in insects, which they say makes the compounds safe for people and the environment.
The metabolites, naturally produced by a species of shrub called Lindera erythrocarpa and a common herbaceous flowering plant in the aster family named Solidago serotina, are chemical warfare agents the plants have evolved to thwart insect attackers.
They work by counteracting a core regulator of development and reproduction in insects called juvenile hormone.
In experiments, mosquitos of the species that typically carries yellow fever were exposed to low doses of the natural insecticides, which are part of a class called juvenile hormone antagonists (JHANs). Researchers watched as larvae died and the ovaries of juvenile females failed to develop fully.
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