TOKYO, May 8 (UPI) -- Japanese scientists say they've isolated the jasmine-scented chemical that attracts silkworms to mulberry leaves -- their primary food source.
The findings could help silk producers fine-tune the diets of silkworms to get them to eat more and digest food more efficiently, a study published in Current Biology reported Friday.
The chemical cis-jasmone emitted in small quantities by the leaves of the mulberry tree triggers a single, highly tuned olfactory receptor in the worms' antennae, said Kazushige Touhara, a professor at the University of Tokyo.
"In the mid-20th century, several volatiles emitted by mulberry leaves were reported to attract silkworms," Touhara said. "However, these previously identified odorants turned out to be weak attractants at best."
Cis-jasmone is so powerful that just a tiny amount draws silkworms toward the source of the smell, he said.
That finding means cis-jasmone might be added to artificial diets to increase the efficiency of the worms' food intake. It also could be used to develop a safe form of pest control that attracts unwanted insects who also are drawn to the scent of cis-jasmone, he said.