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Chemosensory pathways underlying oviposition behavior in the pest insect, Helicoverpa armigera - peripheral and central mechanisms

Alternative title: Kjemosensoriske baner knyttet til eggleggingsadferd i skadeinsektet, Helicoverpa armigera - perifere og sentrale mekanismer

Awarded: NOK 10.8 mill.

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Project Period:

2021 - 2025

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Pest insects feeding on cultivated crops have been a substantial challenge for man from ancient times. The devastating locust swarms attacking agriculture in the Nile Valley, as described in the books of Moses (ca. 1405 bp), is one of the first written references to this problem. The major aim of the project presented here is to contribute to world food safety by exploring basic principles associated with odor-regulated egg-laying behavior in one of the globally most harmful pest insects - the noctuid moth, Helicoverpa armigera. Our main ambition is to improve the knowledge on chemosensory pathways underlying female specific reproductive behavior in the relevant species. Specifically, we will explore the molecular and neural mechanisms typifying detection/processing of odor signals classified as oviposition deterrents (ODs). In that way, we will contribute to improvement of the biological strategies for reducing damage from pest insects in future. The modern pest control is at a turning point, clearly demonstrating that the traditional pesticides are devastating for our ecosystems. An environment-friendly alternative that is also effective is needed more than ever. Utilizing chemical compounds influencing the female-specific reproduction, i.e., egg laying, is a yet unverified method. This approach, which is aimed directly at the hungry larvae, may pave the way for innovation of novel pest control methods. The local pest species, Pieris brassicae, will be included in the behavioral tests as well. The project manager at Chemosensory lab, NTNU, will collaborate with well-qualified researchers from Chinse Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, and Norsøk, Tingvoll. By combining different experimental techniques, such as intracellular recording/staining, calcium imaging, CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, and behavioral studies, we aim to uncover new knowledge on the so far poorly described female-specific olfactory pathway linked to reproduction.

For establishing sustainable agriculture and safe food production, the human society must change pest control strategies by reducing utilization of chemical pesticides and replacing them with environment-friendly alternatives. Despite introduction of biological strategies already several decades ago, including utilization of the insects' own odor signals, such as sex-pheromones, the effectiveness of these methods needs to be improved. It is therefore urgent to upgrade the knowledge about the olfactory pathways and the relevant signaling mechanisms. In this assignment, we aim to explore a system yet poorly described – i.e., the chemosensory circuit underlying regulation of female-specific egg laying behavior in the global pest insect, Helicoverpa armigera. The new knowledge may pave the way for innovation of novel pest control methods approaching the harmful larvae directly. This proposal is linked to an ongoing research project on food safety, classified within the Sino-Norwegian program of the Research Council of Norway (RCN). Three recent high-ranked articles from our research unit on the ongoing project, entitled “Plant – insect relationships: imaging CO2, pheromones, and plant odors in the olfactory pathway of an herbivorous insect”, proves the academic ability of the Chemosensory lab and the suitability of the basic research approach. By continuing the well-established cooperation with our Chinese partners and including a national collaborator having extensive experience from applied research projects on the relevant topic, we have an ideal base for the new plan. The project will include behavioral tests of the local pest species, Pieris brassicae, as well. Regarding expert knowledge, the distinct groups complement each other perfectly as the Norwegian units are competent to explore the central pathways and the odor evoked behaviors, respectively, while the Chinese can uncover details of the peripheral signaling pathway.

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