New Moth Perfumes Generated Through Genetic Mutations
February 20, 2013

Scientists Discover Mutation That Leads To Novel Moth Perfumes

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

A new study led by scientists at Sweden´s Lund University has revealed that a single mutation in a moth gene can produce an entirely new scent. The research team believes the results could contribute to the tailored production of pheromones that could be used for pest control.

The scent of a female moth can be picked up by the male from several hundred feet away.  The males are guided by sexual pheromones — naturally produced biological scent substances that produce a response in other organisms. Almost all of the 180,000 species of moths and butterflies communicate using specialized pheromones, each of which has a subtle scent difference that enables males to find females of their own species.

The Lund University researchers showed in previous studies that new species of moths can evolve because of changes in the female moths' scent. This most recent study has revealed how these changes come about at the genetic level.

“Our results show that a single mutation, which leads to the substitution of a critical amino acid, is sufficient to create a new pheromone blend,” explains Professor Christer Löfstedt from the Department of Biology at Lund University.

The team focused on a moth genus known as Ostrinia and honed in on one of the genes that controls the production of pheromones. While studying this gene, they found that the mutation triggered a single amino acid substitution in an enzyme which, in turn, resulted in a new scent substance. The enzyme plays a key role in the process that converts fatty acids into alcohols, which constitute the two main ingredients in many moth scents.

“Pheromones are already one of the most frequently used methods for environmentally friendly pest control”, says Christer Löfstedt. “With this knowledge, we hope in the future to be able to tailor the production of pheromones in yeast cells and plants to develop a cheap and environmentally friendly production process.”

The findings of this study were recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.