A natural insect deterrent found in avocado could potentially reduce the need for more toxic chemical pesticides used in agriculture.
An oil contained in avocados could deter insect infestation by the most important pest of vegetable crops, one which caused damage to such crops as corn, celery, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, broccoli, cotton and alfalfa.
The natural insecticide could also make use of unmarketable fruit that drops from avocado trees prematurely during severe weather.
Research by John Trumble, University of California Riverside (UCR) professor of entomology have determined that the natural insecticide discourages feeding by the beet armyworm known as “generalist” insect for the variety of plants it attacks.
The beet armyworm is also developing resistance to many pesticides being used against it. Prospects for commercial synthesis of the oil compounds are promising, in part, because the lab synthesis is relatively simple and the materials appear stable even in daylight conditions.
“If synthesis proves unfeasible or expensive, the oil is easily extracted from the fruit,” Trumble said. “Prospects are good for eventual registration of an avocado oil product because the oils are commonly used in cosmetics, and because the fruit has been consumed by people for centuries without any reports of significant negative effects,” he added.
Trumble and associates, Cesar Rodriguez-Saona and Joyce Millar have so far isolated five compounds in the avocado oil, which is contained in specialized cells of the avocado fruit called idioblast cells.
In laboratory tests, each of the compounds called avocado furans, discourages beet armyworms from feeding. It is not yet known if the insect stops feeding after tasting the oil or if its mere contact with the fruit deter its feeding, Rodriguez-Saona said.
Still, a great deal of research and development remains before an avocado based product can be commercialized as a pest management tool.
The effectiveness of the active compounds needs to be tested in the field, a commercial level synthesis needs to be developed and any potential effects on mammals need to be documented, Trumble said.
furans, idioblastThe scientists findings have been published in the Journal of Economic Entomology and Journal of Chemical Ecology.