Advanced Grant

AGRISCENTS - Scents and sensibility in agriculture


With our ERC project AGRISCENTS we study the specificity of volatile blends that plants emit in response to insect and pathogen attack. We aim to understand the mechanisms involved in determining this odor specificity, as well as the evolutionary and ecological importance of the plant-produced signals. However, the ultimate objective of the project is to develop odor sensors that can be used to perceive the inducible plant volatiles and to employ the sensors to detect pests in the field. It is envisioned that the sensors will permit real-time monitoring of the agricultural pests and diseases, enabling farmers to apply crop protection treatments at the right time and in the right place. The knowledge generated by the project and the technologies under development will drastically reduce the need for pesticides. 

In parallel to this project we are also developing novel formulations for the application of entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN) as biological control against insect pests. The application of EPN is usually considered too expensive and not cost effective. The combination of a robotic device that is equipped with an odor sensor and can apply EPN on plants that carry insects could be part of an ideal, cost-effective pest control strategy without any need for pesticides.

The project is divided in three interconnected work packages:

Work package 1 focusses on to deciphering the plants’ odorous vocabulary to create a complete inventory of “odour-prints” for a wide range of herbivore-plant and pathogen-plant combinations. 

Persons involved:

Dr. Carla Arce: https://www.unine.ch/farce/home/membres/carla-marques-arce.html  

Work package 2 concerns the evaluation and optimization of sensor technologies for the detection of specific plant volatile mixtures.

Persons involved:

Prof.. Gregory Röder: https://www.unine.ch/farce/home/membres/gregory-roeder.html

Dr. Arooran Kanagendran:  https://www.unine.ch/farce/home/former-farce-members-in-science/arooran-kanagendran.html

Marine Mamin (PhD student): https://www.unine.ch/farce/home/membres/marine-mamin.html

Work package 3 aims to manipulate maize plants to release a unique blend of easy-to-detect volatiles upon herbivory on the roots. 

Persons involved:

Dr. Wenfeng Ye: https://www.unine.ch/farce/home/membres/wenfeng-ye.html