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Insect pests to have a new foe

CSIRO : 25 April, 2007  (Technical Article)
A new method for designing insecticides could produce chemicals which are deadly to specific pests yet harmless to other species. A partnership between CSIRO and Australian Wool Innovation is on the way to discovering new environmentally-friendly insecticides. Safer insecticides targeting sheep blowflies and sheep body lice are being developed to save the wool industry millions of dollars in lost stock, while promoting a clean green image for wool.
Chief of CSIRO Molecular and Health Technologies, Dr Graeme Woodrow, says: “A major benefit from this approach to insecticide discovery is that these new chemicals will be designed to kill only the targeted pest insects and leave all other animals unharmed.”

The receptor for a hormone which controls moulting in insects, called ecdysone, is targeted by chemicals that mimic the natural hormone. These chemicals initiate moulting at an inappropriate time, resulting in death of the insect. Each species has a unique receptor, so unique and specific pesticides can be designed for each pest species. Once the process of moulting is interfered with, the insect dies.

The partnership with AWI is employing new molecular tools developed by CSIRO scientists working to aid the discovery of new insecticides for sheep pests. The integration of synthetic chemistry, molecular biology, fermentation science, protein chemistry and determination of the 3D structure of protein targets can be applied to a wide spectrum of agricultural and animal health situations. Finding new, safer insecticides will produce benefits to farmers, the Australian economy and to the environment.

Speaking today at the annual AusBiotech conference in Sydney, Dr Woodrow, told leaders of the biotechnology industry that there was a clear alignment between the capabilities at CSIRO and the needs of the biotech industry and that together they could deliver a great impact for Australia.

“The partnership with AWI is employing new molecular tools developed by CSIRO scientists working to aid the discovery of new insecticides for sheep pests.”“Biotech companies rely critically on innovation to succeed, yet much of that innovation requires capital-intensive infrastructure and multi-disciplinary scientific capabilities. Most individual companies do not have these but CSIRO does and this is precisely where CSIRO can help,” Dr Woodrow said.

The technique used to discover the 3D shape of each receptor protein is called structural biology. X-rays are passed through crystals of the pure protein and from the data obtained a 3D structure of the molecule is determined. A well known human health success story employing this technique is the development of the anti-flu drug Relenza.

There is an historical link between the development of Relenza and the current discovery program for new insecticides. The idea for looking at the ecdysone receptor protein and then designing molecules to mimic the hormone binding to it came from CSIRO’s pioneering research on influenza proteins.
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