Exploring the Plant Extract's Safety and Components Against Pest Larvae

Jim Crocker
9th February, 2024

Exploring the Plant Extract's Safety and Components Against Pest Larvae

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Imagine a caterpillar indulging in a feast, not in your backyard, but in vast fields of maize, one of the essential crops around the globe. This isn't a peaceful coexistence but rather a destructive buffet for the fall armyworm (FAW), an insect causing sleepless nights for many farmers. To combat this crop-munching pest, the typical go-to solution has been chemical pesticides, but, like an overused magic potion, they come with a catch—potential health risks and environmental concerns. Luckily, researchers are donning their green capes, turning to nature for answers. Enter the plant called Tithonia diversifolia, otherwise known as the Mexican sunflower. It's not just a vibrant splash of color in the landscape; it might also be a knight in shining armor for maize fields under siege by FAW. Scientists devoted some time to scrutinizing how the fall armyworms respond when they encounter something a bit less welcoming than maize: a botanical concoction derived from the leaves of this plant. You might be wondering how they figure out what's actually in the leaf extract that makes it so distasteful to these critters. Well, it's like finding the ingredients list for a highly secretive family recipe. The researchers used something called GC-MS, which stands for gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. It's a bit like a highly sophisticated barcode scanner that tells you precisely what chemical compounds are present. They also employed FTIR spectroscopy—think of it like an infrared light that can tell scientists the type of chemical bonds and the structure of the components. It's a tiny bit like getting the blueprint of a building. The results? The leaf extract is a cocktail of compounds, but a few stood out—like beta-d-glucopyranoside and palmitic acid, which sound like they belong in a posh, organic smoothie rather than a pesticide. What's more is that apparently, when fall armyworm larvae were exposed to this botanical blend, it had a rather dramatic effect—most of the little beasts didn't survive. So, what does this mean for our ongoing saga with the fall armyworm and our maize supplies? It suggests that by extracting the right mix of substances from the leaves of Tithonia diversifolia, there's potential to create a biopesticide that harnesses the power of nature without relying on artificial chemicals that can leave a nasty trail of side effects for the environment and potentially our health. The tested extracts particularly showed their might against the youngest of the fall armyworms, known as neonates, and the slightly older 'first instar' larvae. Just like the classic fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea," it seems these baby caterpillars can't handle the natural 'spikiness' of the extract. With the early success in controlled lab conditions and in a phytotron—which is essentially a plant growth chamber simulating real-life conditions—the leaf potion from the Mexican sunflower could likely be taking center stage as a new, greener method to fend off FAW invasions. The journey from the lab bench to the field is not always a short one, but the findings bubble with promise. As researchers continue to test and tweak, they aim to perfect this botanical blend into a safe and effective defense against those voracious fall armyworms. It's a kind of agriculture meets botany, where researchers act like master chefs, mixing ingredients not to tantalize taste buds but to create a recipe for respite for maize fields worldwide. If successful, this could mark the dawn of a new era in pest control—an era where going green means more than just planting crops, it means protecting them in a way that's kind to the earth and safe for its inhabitants. So, the next time you see a Mexican sunflower, you might just be looking at a future hero of global agriculture.

BiochemPlant ScienceAgriculture

References

Main Study

1) Phytochemical characterisation and toxicity effect of Tithonia diversifolia (Hemls.) A. Gray leaf extract on fall army worm Spodoptera frugiperda (JE Smith) larvae.

Published 9th February, 2024

https://doi.org/10.1515/jcim-2023-0310



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