On average, every apple has been sprayed with pesticides 33 times before we bite into it. Reducing this number by half would not only reduce the associated risks for human health and the natural environment but also save huge economic costs. Some plants have evolved amazingly effective insect-repellent surfaces with potential to inspire the bio-engineering of physically protected crop plants or the development of anti-adhesive paints and surface coatings. This project combines methods from analytical chemistry, biomechanics, developmental biology and field ecology in an interdisciplinary approach to understand the function and development of mechanical insect barriers in plants. To this end, I study the fully wettable, micro-structured trapping surfaces of carnivorous pitcher plants which are safe for insects to walk on when dry but turn extremely slippery when wetted by rain or condensation. This bimodality makes them interesting for crop breeding because, in contrast to permanently slippery surfaces, wetness-activated slippery surfaces give access to beneficial insects such as pollinators, predators and parasitoids during dry times but whenever it rains, all insects are washed off. The project aims to identify the key properties that make plant surfaces wettable and slippery when wet, and to elucidate for the first time the processes and genetic mechanisms underlying their development. It is pioneer research with the potential to lead to novel, environmentally friendly approaches to pest control.
|Effective start/end date||1/01/14 → …|