When under attack from insect herbivores, tomato plants (along with many other plant species) release a mixture of volatile compounds into the air. These volatiles can be detected by nearby plants that then prepare (prime) themselves for attack by producing a more rapid and effective defense response against the herbivores. In my current research, I seek to identify these individual or indeed group of compounds that induce this primed state. Potentially, by utilising the volatiles emitted from infested tomato plants growers worldwide could introduce a pest management system that is not only effective but also organic.
I will be specifically focusing on the greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporarium) which is a prevalent and persistent pest to glasshouse-grown crops, notably tomato. Whitefly are currently controlled by a series of common pesticides that, as is well documented, have many negative environmental side effects. The prospect of these organic volatile compounds being used to deter pests and subsequently increase yield is an innovative and exciting one that could benefit growers, buyers and the environment alike.