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Is lavender a natural pesticide source?

A University of British Columbia researcher is exploring lavender’s ability to create natural pesticides, according to a news release. Soheil Mahmoud, an associate professor of biology at UBC’s Okanagan campus, conducts research on organic compounds found in plants — specifically, lavender. While lavender is known for its strong scent, and the plant’s oils are said to have a healing or soothing benefit, Mahmoud said lavender has much more to offer.

LAVENDER-FIELDAssociate professor Soheil Mahmoud (second from right) with his research team at the University of British Columbia Okanagan’s lavender field. Photo credit University of British Columbia.“Lavender has proven to be very good at protecting itself through production of antimicrobial and anti-fungal biochemical compounds,” said Mahmoud in the release. “One of our goals is to identify molecules that are involved in this natural self-defense.”

Using a research field on campus, Mahmoud and his team of students are attempting to identify, characterize and clone the specific genes that control the defensive properties of lavender. If that is possible, Mahmoud believes it may have significant environmental implications.

Lavenders produce essential oils consisting mainly of organic compounds, including an antimicrobial and insecticidal monoterpene named 3-carene, explained Mahmoud. In the latest research, students isolated and examined the gene and corresponding enzyme that catalyzes the formation of 3-carene in lavenders.

Traditionally, chemical herbicides or pesticides have been used to control fungal growth or insects, but Mahmoud said that method is becoming less desirable as many of the pests and fungi have become resistant to the chemicals used, and consumers prefer food that is untreated or treated only with natural products.

“We’ve become much more health conscious,” said Mahmoud. “There are healthier options instead of spraying chemicals on plants; we just need to explore these. Aromatic plants like lavenders could provide suitable alternatives to chemical-based insecticides.”