Bio-pheromones successfully tested in field trials

Wednesday 13 Nov 19
by Anne Lykke, Anders Mønsted

The EU-funded OLEFINE project has now proven the efficacy of non-toxic, non-chemical bio-based pheromones both in the laboratory and in field trials. Pheromones are used for plant protection from insect pests.

In the EU-funded project OLEFINE, scientists are solving the problem of safe plant protection using pheromones. The current primary method for plant protection from insect pests is by insecticide spraying. Not only are chemical insecticides toxic to humans, they also kill useful insects in the field and destroy the biodiversity. An alternative to chemical insecticides is sex pheromones, which are used for mating disruption. This works by intervening with the insects’ ability to find a mate. Hence, no larvae will hatch to eat the crops.

"The efficacy has now been proven both in the laboratory and in field trials"
Irina Borodina, CTO at BioPhero and Technical Manager of OLEFINE

OLEFINE partners include The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability at Technical University of Denmark, Lund University as well as several industrial partners, counting BioPhero, Novagrica, ISCA, and Biotrend.

The quest of OLEFINE is to produce pheromones that are affordable as an alternative to insecticides. The project partners have achieved production of insect sex pheromones using fermentation, specifically pheromones for mating disruption of cotton bollworm, rice stem borers, and diamondback moth.

The partners have now reached another important milestone, according to Irina Borodina, CTO at BioPhero and Technical Manager of OLEFINE.

“The efficacy has now been proven both in the laboratory and in field trials.”

A new video shows the breakthroughs of the OLEFINE project in their quest to make environmentally friendly insecticides:

Video copyright: Biofaction
Brewing green insecticides

Currently, pheromones are produced by chemical synthesis, which is an expensive and polluting process. The scientists instead want to use biotechnology to produce pheromones at low cost by fermentation. The process is similar to beer brewing, and the production processes for insulin for diabetes treatment and enzymes for washing powders.

Farmers are looking for greener, less toxic and more sustainable alternatives to chemical insecticides and pesticides. Furthermore, data reveals that a lot of current insecticides are more toxic than first anticipated. These findings have also led the European Union to ban one the world’s most widely used insecticide classes, neonicotinoids, to protect useful insects such as bees that are vital to crop pollination.

Additionally, many insect pests have developed resistance to insecticides and GM crop traits. Therefore, sustainable solutions for plant protection are more in demand than ever.



The aim of OLEFINE is to make pheromones an affordable alternative to insecticides.


One of most promising methods for preventing harmful insects from eating the crops is called Mating Disruption. The method is to confuse insects, instead of killing them with toxic chemicals. In Mating Disruption, small amounts of insect sex pheromones are released in the field to prevent the males from finding the insect females. In this way, females do not get fertilized and cannot lay eggs that develop into larvae eating the plants. The technology is simple and effective, but until now quite expensive.


The OLEFINE project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 760798.

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