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Less sex for wine pests means a better vintage in your glass

Published: 22 April 2002

Scientists at the University of Southampton and at Exosect, a university spin-out company, have been awarded funding to investigate the best ways of disrupting mating in wine pests, as a means of controlling the insects without using pesticides.

A £200,000 grant to ExoSect was announced by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) recently as part of the BBSRC's Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). The two-year research programme will investigate the mechanisms for disrupting mating and will allow the development of an economically viable, more 'organic' technology for wine producers.

Dr Guy Poppy, from the University's School of Biological Sciences, is excited at the prospect of working with Exosect on the project. "We already know that moth insect pests in vineyards can be controlled by disrupting the insects' sexual desires," he said. "Exosect has developed the ExoSex' Mating Disruption System and this project will allow us to find out more about exactly how it works and to ensure that it will be a useful tool in developing sustainable food production methods."

The ExoSex System consists of a dispenser to attract the male insects and contaminate them with EntoStat' electrostatic power, coated with female pheromones. Once a male flies off, he is then unable to detect females due to the scent on his own body, and even if he is lucky enough to encounter a female, he will appear to be female himself and will be rejected. The contaminated males also become attractive to other males, so that on contact, the powder is transferred to previously unaffected males.

The result of all this sexual confusion is that successful matings in the vineyard are dramatically reduced and pest populations fall, resulting in less crop damage. Since EntoStat is derived from natural plant materials and the ExoSex System contains no pesticides, there is no risk to other, beneficial insects such as bees and ladybirds.

Exosect's Research Manager, Dr Karen Underwood, said: "We are extremely grateful to BBSRC for giving us the chance to develop an environmentally sensitive, economically viable solution to a problem that has traditionally been tackled using pesticide treatments. ExoSex and EntoStat promise to be a huge step forward for Integrated Crop Management on economically important crops such as grapes."

Related Staff Member

Notes for editors

  1. Wine grapes are attacked by a number of pest species, including the European grape vine moth in Europe, East Africa and Japan, the vine moth in Europe, Asia and South America, and the grape berry moth in Canada and the USA.
  2. The insects themselves can have serious effect on yield and can also increase the chances of infection by bunch rot.
  3. These pests affect grape wine production all over the world, with 3 million acres of crops destroyed by grape pests annually, the equivalent of 1.3 billion gallons of wine.
  4. Wine producers rely heavily on the use of synthetic pesticides to control these pest species, but these are not allowed in organic wine production, leading to higher yield loss and increased costs. No economically viable non-polluting solutions are available to date.
  5. Exosect Ltd is a University of Southampton spin-out company based at the Chilworth Science Park. ExoSect promotes innovative techniques utilising patented electrostatic EntoStat' powder technology for the control of insect pests in agriculture, horticulture, amenity and public health.
  6. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrates its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £215 million.

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