Pests cause great economical loss in agriculture and impede an optimal use of the resources. Sexy Plant rises as a pest control strategy based on the use of mating disruption by sex pheromones. The release of sex pheromones impedes male moths to find their females, avoiding crop-damaging larvae to be born.
The Sexy Plant is engineered to produce and release three moth sex pheromones which affect a broad number of Lepidoptera species (moths). We implemented previous work by Ding et al.  to produce the first two pheromones (Z11-16:OH and Z11-16:OAc). Inspired by Hagström et al , we planned the introduction of a Fatty Acid reductase to transform Z11-16:OH to Z11-16:Ald. As result, the sexy plant will be able to produce three sex pheromones involved in moth’s mating disruption (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Biosynthetic pathway of moth sex pheromones. Sex pheromones are bordered in purple.
Biosafety is a major concern in our project. For that reason, we have developed a biosafety module which allows an easy identification of the plant by identity preservation and prevents the plant to spread its genetic material via pollen.
In addition, we decided to enable external control of pheromone production, designing a genetic switch that controls the activation of the biosynthetic pathway. This genetic switch turns on the production of pheromones when a solution containing CuSO4 is sprayed on the plant.
The different genetic modules are put together to create the complete system. The system resembles an electric circuit, as it is represented in figure 2. Our genetic circuit, once introduced in Nicotiana benthamiana creates the Sexy Plant, a plant to fight moths and avoid damages in crops.
Figure 2. Our system in an electric circuit-like format. The plant’s own metabolism is used as the energy source. The biosafety module, composed by identity preservation and male sterility parts is always under expression in the system, to ensure the security of the transgenic plant. Pheromone synthetic pathways (A,B or C, depending on the problem pest) are activated using a genetic switch sensitive to Copper Sulfate, so system will not be producing pheromones unless it is activated with Copper-rich solution.
- Ding BJ, Hofvander P, Wang HL, Durrett TP, Stymne S, et al. (2014) A plant factory for moth pheromone production. Nat Commun 5: 3353.
- Hagström A, Wang HL, Lienard MA, Lassance JM, Johansson T, et al. (2013) A moth pheromone brewery: production of (Z)-11-hexadecenol by heterologous co-expression of two biosynthetic genes from a noctuid moth in a yeast cell factory. Microb Cell Fact 12: 125.