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New research to help identify and manage devastating pest insects - University of Liverpool

Technology that was first used to distinguish healthy tissues from cancerous ones in humans has been successfully used to identify insects.

Every year insect pests cause massive economic damage in agriculture and forestry, either by directly attacking crops or through the transmission of diseases.

Research by the University of Liverpool, in conjunction with integrated pest management leader International Pheromone Solutions (IPS), could have huge benefits for the food industry. The technique could enable growers and importers to identify pest insect species quickly and accurately.

The research was conducted by Liverpool PhD student Iris Wagner. She used a new analytical method called Rapid Evaporative Ionisation Mass Spectrometry (REIMS). REIMS is a real-time analytical method involving the rapid burning of the sample tissue that gives a ‘fingerprint’ based on the molecular composition of the insect.

For the study, the team of scientists first looked at five arthropod species, such as spiders and beetles. Once the team was confident of the technique, they focused on more closely related species of fruit fly (Drosophila spp.). Two of the species were closely related and their females morphologically highly similar, making typing using traditional methods, such as identification through morpho-taxonomic keys, very difficult.

REIMS could distinguish different species at the adult or immature stage as well as discriminating male from female – all critical information for growers who need to monitor and manage infestations.

Access the paper: Wagner I, Koch NI, Sarsby J, et al. The application of rapid evaporative ionization mass spectrometry in the analysis of Drosophila species-a potential new tool in entomology. Open Biol. doi:10.1098/rsob.200196

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