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Synthetic pesticides have played a major role in crop protection related to the intensification of agricultural systems. In the recent years, environmental side effects and health concerns raised by an indiscriminate use have led the EU to the ban of many synthetic pesticides. As a result of this drastic revision, currently there is a strong need for new and alternative pest control methods. An interesting source of biorational pesticides may be represented by the biocidal compounds naturally occurring in plants as products of the secondary metabolism. Groups of plant secondary metabolites most promising for the development of pesticidal formulations are glucosinolates, saponins, and more generally terpenoid phytoconstituents, such as essential oil and their constituents. Glucosinolates are thioglucosidic secondary metabolites occurring mainly in the Brassicaceae and, at a less extent, in Capparidaceae families. The incorporation of glucosinolate- containing plant material into the soil results in degradation products highly toxic to soilborne pest, pathogens and weeds. This practice, known as biofumigation, may be considered as an ecological alternative to soil toxic fumigants. Plant-derived saponins are triterpene glycosides present in top and root tissues of plant species of the families Leguminosae, Alliaceae, Asteraceae, Polygalaceae and Agavaceae. Saponins and saponin-rich plant materials have been also reported for a biocidal activity on phytoparasites and soilborne plant pathogens. Essential oils are volatile, natural, heterogeneous mixtures of single substances, mainly terpenes and phenolics, formed as secondary metabolites by aromatic plants belonging to several botanical families. Among terpenes, limonoid triterpenes have been demonstrated to possess interesting insecticidal, nematicidal and antifungal properties. Occurrence of these compounds is mainly limited to Meliaceae and Rutaceae. Alkaloids, phenolics, cyanogenic glucosides, polyacetylenes and polythienyls are further groups of secondary metabolites also known for their biocidal activity and susceptible for the production of natural pesticides. Alkaloids are derived from various botanical families, amongst which the Solacaneae, and include a number of molecules, such as nicotine, veratrine, cevatrine and ryanodine, used as insecticides. Phenolics were found also toxic to insects, fungi, bacteria, nematodes and weeds. Cyanogenic glucosides are amino acidderived secondary metabolites releasing, upon tissue disruption, hydrogen cyanide that suppress insects, fungus, nematodes and weeds. Finally, polyacetylenes and polythienyls, substances mainly present in Tagetes species, are also well known for their insecticidal and nematicidal properties.
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