BACKGROUND: Most insect-resistant transgenic crops employ toxins to control pests. A novel approach is to enhance the effectiveness of natural enemies by genetic engineering of the biosynthesis of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Before the commercialisation of such transgenic plants can be pursued, detailed fundamental studies of their effects on herbivores and their natural enemies are necessary. The linalool/nerolidol synthase gene FaNES1 was constitutively expressed from strawberry in three Arabidopsis thaliana accessions, and the behaviour of the aphid Brevicoryne brassicae L., the parasitoid Diaeretiella rapae McIntosh and the predator Episyrphus balteatus de Geer was studied.
RESULTS: Transgenic FaNES1-expressing plants emitted (E)-nerolidol and larger amounts of (E)-DMNT and linalool. Brevicoryne brassicae was repelled by the transgenic lines of two of the accessions, whereas its performance was not affected. Diaeretiella rapae preferred aphid-infested transgenic plants over aphid-infested wild-type plants for two of the accessions. In contrast, female E. balteatus predators did not differentiate between aphid-infested transgenic or wild-type plants.
CONCLUSION: The results indicate that the genetic engineering of plants to modify their emission of VOCs holds considerable promise for facilitating biological control of herbivores. Validation for crop plants is a necessary next step to assess the usefulness of modified volatile emission in integrated pest management.