Harnessing the power of Mother Nature’s chemical cues


Semiochemicals are natural compounds
emitted by plants and animals to elicit
desired behaviors. Illustration by
Renato Leal, ISCA Technologies.

The natural world is a complicated place, populated by millions of species of plants and animals.

So just how do male and female insects of the same species find each other for mating in a jungle abuzz with thousands of species? Similarly, how do plants attract the right pollinators? How do mosquitoes know where to lay their eggs? The answer is semiochemicals: the naturally occurring compounds that plants and animals produce to elicit desired behaviors from other organisms.

The group of compounds known as semiochemicals includes the better-known pheromones, chemicals that animals of same species use to communicate with each other. Sex pheromones, for instance, are emitted to attract mates. Mating, however, is just one behavior needed for a species to avoid extinction. Pregnant mosquitoes, for instance, release a pheromone when they lay their eggs in a puddle that signals to other females that they’ve found a suitable aquatic habitat for their young.

When too many bark beetles infest a pine tree, they emit a repellent that tells approaching beetles, “Hey, this tree is taken. Go someplace else!”

Other semiochemicals are released to compel certain behaviors from organisms of very different species.  Flowering plants, for example, release floral compounds to lure the bees, wasps, or hummingbirds they need to dust their ovaries with pollen. Bees in Africa, meanwhile, release a compound that repels elephants, preventing these behemoths from raiding their honey-laden hives.

ISCA is a world leader in the use of semiochemicals for pest management. We have mastered how to harness these naturally produced compounds, including pheromones, plant volatiles, flower oils, sugars, and proteins, to manipulate insect behavior in ways that protect crops and forests, and prevent the spread of disease.

By mimicking systems already found in nature, we can create sustainable agricultural pest and disease vector control while posing no threat to the environment or public safety.

Semiochemical advantages

Resistance unlikely: Insects are far less likely to develop resistance to semiochemicals than to conventional pesticides.

Non-toxic: Semiochemicals contain no poisonous substances and pose no threat to humans, non-target insects, or wildlife.

Effective: Because they are a natural part of an insect’s ecology, semiochemicals target specific species to cause desired outcomes.

Semiochemical strategies

Disrupts the Mating Cycle: Female sex pheromones are a type of semiochemical that attracts males for mating. In pest management, pheromones are instrumental in reducing insect populations by preventing them from procreating. When a pheromone solution is used on crops, male insects become confused by the abundance of the applied pheromone and are ultimately unable to find a female for mating. This proactive approach reduces pest populations without killing insects and without using a single drop of pesticide.

Attracts and Kills Insects: Semiochemicals can also be used on crops to attract and kill insects. In this strategy, insects are drawn to and consume the semiochemical solution, which contains a trace amount of pesticide to effectively eradicate the pest. Because the pesticide is consumed by the insect, rather than simply coming in contact with its cuticle, the amount needed is small, and the solution is used on just a tiny fraction of the crop, drastically reducing the amount of pesticide applied compared to the conventional “cover spray” method. The attract and kill method leaves no chemical residue on fruit and vegetables.

Naturally Repels Insects: When semiochemical repellents are placed on healthy plants, they trick insects into believing it is decayed or already colonized, signaling that the plant would not make a viable host. Semiochemical solutions have protected entire forests from the damaging effects of mountain pine beetles without harming other wildlife and without blanket spraying of pesticides.


ISCA’s bee pollination innovation honored by federal business program

ISCA’s bee pollination enhancement technology was honored as a success story of the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The program provides grants to small businesses to fund new innovations. 

Click here to see the SBIR article about this ISCA innovation called APIS Bloom that increases crop yields by increasing bee pollination rates.

Developed under grant support from the U.S. Department Agriculture, APIS Bloom focuses bees toward the desired crop areas. Growers apply this safe product directly to the crops during the blossoming period. It then steadily releases a bee pheromone called Nasonov. This is the same compound the worker bees release in nature to tell other bees they have discovered productive sources of pollen and nectar, and it also guides bees back to their hives.

The pheromone directs the bees to desire crop blossoms while discouraging them from going beyond orchard boundaries. It also compels them to forage at greater distances from the hive, which provide growers with greater coverage per hive. Bees also go work for longer periods of time. And they are more active during cooler and cloudy conditions that otherwise stifle their activity.




USDA Secretary prioritizes broadband technology for America’s farmland

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Today the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue made “rural broadband for e-connectivity”  a top infrastructure priority for America’s farms.


 “Precision agriculture technologies are growing in popularity for their ability to improve farm management decisions, for increasing production and reducing input costs,”

Continue reading…


Better pollination rates mean more luscious raspberries

Photo by Rhododendrites via Creative Commons.

With spring fast coming, raspberry and other bramble crops in California and the southeastern states have begun the crucial blossoming phase. What happens next depends on honey bees. 

And they got a lot of work to do. A single raspberry is really dozens of separate tiny pieces of fruit called drupelets, each in need of pollination.

Continue reading…


ISCA offers safe pine protection innovations developed in Canada

ISCA now has three products to control devastating bark beetles. Photo by David Danelski, ISCA Technologies

ISCA Technologies is now manufacturing two great, eco-friendly products to manage and control the bark beetles that kill pine and spruce trees that had been developed by Contech Enterprises of Delta, Canada.

We are marketing these products under their original names: Pine Beetle Repellent Verbenone Pouch and Douglas-Fir and Spruce Beetle Repellent MCH Bubble Cap.

These products deploy beetle pheromones that essentially trick beetles into believing that treated trees are already colonized, and thus too crowded for newcomers.

Continue reading…


Protecting pine trees from deadly bark beetles

Trees dying from a mountain pine beetle infestation. Photo by Daniel Miller of the U.S. Forest Service.

The bark beetle forest infestations in the Western part of North America have been described as the greatest insect blight in modern times.

Bark beetles have devastated large forested areas in all 19 of the western states of the United States and provinces of Canada, leaving brown swaths of dead and dying trees on the mountainous landscapes that in some areas can stretch as far as the eye can see.

Since the 1990s, the beetles have destroyed more than 88 million acres of forests, where they can kill up to 90 percent of trees.

Continue reading…


APIS BLOOM: Even busier bees

Suppose you could make busy bees work just a bit harder to pollinate your fruit crops?

APIS BLOOM does just that.

Continue reading…

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,