Commercial development of plant essential oils and their constituents as active ingredients in bioinsecticides

  • Murray B. IsmanEmail author


Insecticidal action of plant essential oils has been an area of intensive research in the new millennium, according to a recent bibliometric analysis. Despite this overwhelming research effort, commercialization of bioinsecticides based on essential oils has lagged far behind, although such products have now been used in the USA for over a decade, and in the EU in the last 4–5 years. Recent progress in commercialization of these products is reviewed here. Essential oils and their mono- and sesquiterpenoid constituents are fast-acting neurotoxins in insects, possibly interacting with multiple receptor types. These compounds also display potentially important sublethal behavioural effects in pest insects, including feeding and oviposition deterrence and repellence. Synergy among essential oil terpenoids appears to be a common phenomenon, and a mechanism for this action in rosemary oil has recently been demonstrated. Commercial development of bioinsecticides based on plant essential oils can follow several different pathways producing products with active ingredients differing in their genesis. These include products whose active ingredients consist of (1) a mixture of essential oils; (2) a single essential oil, or a single terpenoid constituent; (3) a blend of terpenoids, synthetically produced, that emulate those in a plant essential oil; and (4) a novel (non-natural) blend of terpenoids obtained from different plant sources. Examples of each of these are provided.


Natural insecticides Insecticidal terpenoids Feeding deterrents Oviposition deterrents Synergisitic natural products 



Research on plant essential oil-based pesticides in the author’s laboratory was generously supported from 1996 to 2017 by EcoSMART Technologies, KeyPlex and Kittrich Corporation.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author is a founding member of, and continues to serve on the Scientific Advisory Panel of KeyPlex/Kittrich, and consults to other biopesticide companies.


  1. Akhtar Y, Isman MB (2003) Binary mixtures of feeding deterrents mitigate the decrease in feeding deterrent response to antifeedants following prolonged exposure in the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Chemoecol 13:177–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akhtar Y, Pages E, Stevens A et al (2012) Effect of chemical complexity of essential oils on feeding deterrence in larvae of the cabbage looper. Physiol Entomol 37:81–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arjjumend H, Koutouki K (2018) Science of biopesticides and critical analysis of Indian legal frameworks regulating biocontrol agents. Int J Agric Environ Biotechnol 11:563–571Google Scholar
  4. Bailen M, Julio LF, Diaz CE et al (2013) Chemical composition and biological effects of essential oils from Artemisia absinthium L. cultivated under different environmental conditions. Ind Crops Prod 49:102–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benelli G, Pavela R, Maggi F et al (2017) Commentary: making green pesticides greener? The potential of plant products for nanosynthesis and pest control. J Clust Sci 28:3–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. California Department of Pesticide Regulation (2016) Summary of pesticide use report data 2016, indexed by chemical. Available at: Accessed 15 April 2019
  7. De Oliveira JL, Ramos Campos EV, Bakshi M et al (2014) Applications of nanotechnology for the encapsulation of botanical insecticides for sustainable agriculture: prospects and promises. Biotechnol Adv 32:1550–1561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Deletre E, Mallent M, Menut C et al (2015) Behavioral response of Bemisia tabaci (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae) to 20 plant extracts. J Econ Entomol 108:1890–1901CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Enan E (2001) Insecticidal activity of essential oils: octopaminergic sites of action. Comp Biochem Physiol 130:325–337Google Scholar
  10. Feng R, Isman MB (1995) Selectionf or resistance to azadirachtin in the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae. Experientia 51:831–833CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Grieneisen ML, Isman MB (2018) Recent developments in the registration and usage of botanical pesticides in California. In: Zhang M, Jackson S, Robertson MA, Zeiss MR (eds) Managing and analyzing pesticide use data for pest management, environmental monitoring, public health, and public policy, American chemical society symposium series 1283:149–169Google Scholar
  12. Isman MB (2000) Plant essential oils for pest and disease management. Crop Prot 19:603–608CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Isman MB (2016) Pesticides based on plant essential oils: phytochemical and practical considerations. In: Jeliazkov VD and Cantrell CL (eds) Medical and aromatic crops: production, phytochemistry, and utilization, American chemical society symposium series 1218:13–26Google Scholar
  14. Isman MB (2017) Bridging the gap: moving botanical insecticides from the laboratory to the farm. Indust Crops Prod 110:10–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Isman MB, Grieneisen ML (2014) Botanical insecticide research: many publications, limited useful data. Trends Plant Sci 19:140–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Isman MB, Tak JH (2017a) Commercialization of insecticides based on plant essential oils: past, present and future. In: Nollet L, Rathore HS (eds) Green pesticides handbook: essential oils for pest control. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 27–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Isman MB, Tak JH (2017b) Inhibition of acetylcholinesterase by essential oils and monoterpenoids: a relevant mode of action for insecticidal essential oils? Biopest Int 13(2):71–78Google Scholar
  18. Isman MB, Miresmailli S, Machial C (2011) Commercial opportunities for pesticides based on plant essential oils in agriculture, industry and consumer products. Phytochem Rev 10:197–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kah M, Singh Kookana R, Gogos A et al (2018) A critical evaluation of nanopesticides and nanofertilizers against their conventional analogues. Nat Nanotechnol 13:677–684CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kostyukovsky M, Rafaeli A, Gileadi C et al (2002) Activation of octopaminergic receptors by essential oil constituents isolated from aromatic plants: possible mode of action against insect pests. Pest Manag Sci 58:1101–1106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Koul O, Walia S, Dhaliwal GS (2008) Essential oils as green pesticides: potential and constraints. Biopestic Int 4:63–84Google Scholar
  22. Marrone P (2019) Pesticidal natural products: status and future potential. Pest Manag Sci 75:2325–2340PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Mishra S, Keswani C, Abhilash PC et al (2017) Integrated approach of agri-nanotechnology: challenges and future trends. Front Plant Sci 8:471PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Pavela R, Benelli G (2016) Essential oils as ecofriendly biopesticides? Challenges and constraints. Trends Plant Sci 21:1000–1007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Price DN, Berry MS (2006) Comparison of effects of octopamine and insecticidal essential oils on activity in the nerve cord, foregut and dorsal unpaired median neurons of cockroaches. J Insect Physiol 52:309–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Priestley CM, Williamson EM, Wafford KA et al (2003) Thymol, a constituent of thyme essential oil, is a positive allosteric modulator of human GABAA receptors and a homo-oligomeric GABA receptor from Drosophila melanogaster. Brit J Pharmacol 140:1363–1372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Regnault-Roger C, Vincent C, Arnason JT (2012) Essential oils in insect control: low-risk products in a high-stakes world. Ann Rev Entomol 57:405–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Smith GH, Roberts JM, Pope TW (2018) Terpene based biopesticides as potential alternatives to synthetic insecticides for control of aphid pests on protected ornamentals. Crop Protect 110:125–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tak JH, Isman MB (2015) Enhanced cuticular penetration as the mechanism for synergy of insecticidal constituents of rosemary essential oil in Trichoplusia ni. Sci Rep 5:12690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Tak JH, Isman MB (2016) Metabolism of citral, the major constituent of lemongrass oil, in the cabbage looper, Tricohoplusia ni, and effects of enzyme inhibitors on toxicity and metabolism. Pestic Biochem Physiol 133:20–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tak JH, Isman MB (2017) Acaricidal and repellent activity of plant essential oil-derived terpenes and the effect of binary mixtures against Tetranycus urticae Koch (Acari: Tetranychidae). Indust Crops Prod 108:786–792CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tak JH, Jovel E, Isman MB (2017) Effects of rosemary, thyme and lemongrass oils and their major constituents on detoxifying enzyme activity and insecticidal activity in Trichoplusia ni. Pestic Biochem Physiol 140:9–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tong F, Coats JR (2010) Effects of monoterpenoid insecticides on [3H]-TBOB binding in house fly GABA receptor and 36Cl-uptake in American cockroach ventral nerve cord. Pestic Biochem Physiol 98:317–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tong F, Gross AD, Dolan MC et al (2013) The phenolic monoterpenoid carvacrol inhibits the binding of nicotine to the house fly nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. Pest Manag Sci 69:775–780CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Vurro M, Miguel-Rojas C, Perex-de-Luque A (2019) Safe nanotechnologies for increasing the effectiveness of environmentally friendly natural agrochemicals. Pest Manag Sci 75:2403–2412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Walia S, Saha S, Tripathi V, Sharma KK (2017) Phytochemical biopesticides: some recent developments. Phytochem Rev 16:989–1007CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Land and Food SystemsUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations