Scientists Discover Insect-Repelling Compounds in Jatropha

USDA scientists have identified components of Jatropha curcas seed oil that are responsible for mosquito repellency.

Researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Natural Products Utilization Research Unit (NPURU) in Oxford, Mississippi often find effective plant-derived compounds to deter insects by gathering plants in the wild. The researchers also investigate plants that are used in traditional folk remedies to develop insect-repellants.

After the team learned that people in India burn the seed oil from Jatropha curcas in lamps to keep insects out of their homes and surrounding areas, NPURU chemist, Charles Cantrell, decided to do some research of the plant. Cantrell extracted smoke from the plant in a laboratory and analyzed its properties.

Free fatty acids and triglycerides were among a number of active compounds found to be effective at preventing mosquitoes from biting. Researchers have known for some time that fatty acids repel insects, but this was the first known report that identified triglycerides as having mosquito repellent activity, according to Cantrell.

Working closely with colleagues at ARS and the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi, Cantrell is exploring additional promising compounds from other plants. By combining these or similar compounds from other plants with those in Jatropha species, scientists might be able to develop a more effective product.

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