Insects destroy a very large fraction of the global agricultural output – nearly 40 percent.  The spotted wing Drosophila (Drosophila suzukii), for example, feeds on ripening fruits.  A nuisance especially in Northern California and Europe, it lays its eggs inside ripe berries, and, when its larvae emerge there, the fruit is destroyed.  As a result, each year D. suzukii causes hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of agricultural damage worldwide.

Scientists at the University of California, Riverside have now identified a safe repellent that protects fruits from D. suzukii:  Butyl anthranilate (BA), a pleasant-smelling chemical compound produced naturally in fruits in small amounts.  In their lab experiments, the scientists found BA warded off D. suzukii from blueberries coated with it.  The finding, when extrapolated to other agricultural pests, could provide a strategy for controlling them and increasing the productivity of crops and fruit.

BA smells like grapes and is commonly used as a flavor and fragrance component.  It belongs to a category called generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and is approved for human consumption as a food additive.

Study results appear in Scientific Reports, an online and open-access Nature publication.