Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Searches for novel fungal biopesticides to control insects

Research carried out by an international team of researchers led by Dr Ioly Kotta-Loizou from Imperial College, London and Dr Robert Coutts from the School of Life and Medical Sciences in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire brings us one step closer to the development of next-generation fungal-based insecticides that will be environmentally friendly but also highly efficient.

One of the most significant challenges for the survival of humanity is the continued supply of sufficient food in the light of the ever-increasing human population. The current world population is ca. 7.5 billion and approximately 2 billion tons/year of crops are needed to cover our nutritional requirements. Chemical pesticides protect crops from damage and increase agricultural output, however they are damaging to the ecosystem and are considered one of the most significant toxic threats to our health. It is estimated that 7 million people are at risk from exposure to pesticides globally, while 1 million people yearly suffer or die from pesticide associated diseases.

An environmentally friendly, relatively cost-effective alternative to chemical insecticides is the use of microorganisms, such as entomopathogenic fungi (EPF) that kill insects, to protect and maintain crop production; however, fungal-based insecticides currently are not widely used largely because they are not as efficient and reliable as their chemical counterparts. Drs Ioly Kotta-Loizou and Robert Coutts recently discovered that virus infection of one of the most popular EPF named Beauveria bassiana results in increased growth and pathogenicity, suggesting that viruses can be used to improve fungal-based insecticides. However, prior to using virus-infected fungi on crops, we need to understand how these viruses spread from one organism to another and whether they mutate regularly in order to ensure the safety of the potential applications.