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Natural Insect Repellent

May 29, 2015

Chemists come up with new ways to copy nature’s insect repellents.



Repelling insects with lab-crafted smells. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The pungent smells of pine and lemon aren’t there for our benefit: they come from compounds that plants make to drive away hungry insects. They’re called terpenes and could be used as eco-friendly insect repellents, but extracting them is expensive and they break down quickly. Now, Cardiff University biochemist Rudolf Allemann and his colleagues report in Chemical Communications on synthetic versions made using natural enzymes.

RUDOLPH ALLEMAN (Cardiff University, United Kingdom):

If you use natural enzymes like we did, you can take a whole pool of starting molecules—which are easy to make—feed them to the enzymes, and generate analogs of the natural molecule.


The new smell molecules are more effective and stable than the originals. And Alleman says the same technique can be used to produce other useful, nature-based compounds. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.