Plagues represent an increasing concern for the farming industry, more exposed to invasive species each day. One example is Xylella fasidiosa, originally from northern California, or the red palm weevil (Rhynchoporus ferrugineus), originally from tropical Asia. These plagues constitute a serious environmental hazard, and efforts are put to find sustainable solutions such as biopesticides: biological plaguicides, such as bacteria, fungi or virus.
The biopesticide´s market has grown 24% through the past two years, being the entomopathogenic fungi one of the key biopesticides. These fungi can infect the host through the tegmentum, and they grow inside the hemocoel of the insect, driving to its death. Once the host is dead, the fungi grows saprophytically in the corpse, sporulate and initiate a new horizontal transmission cycle to another insect. Mitosporic fungi Beauveria bassiana, an entomopathogenic fungi, has been used for biological control of coleopter insects, the taxon of the red palm weevil.
Researchers from Universidad de Alicante have managed to isolate this fungi from infected red pal weevils, being specially pathogenic against this plague, with a death rate of 70-85%. This research has lead to the development of a start-up: Glen Biotech. They are in the process of registering a patent for a phytosanitary product against the red palm weevil based on this isolate of B. bassiana.
“We’ve achieved to repeat what nature is doing, but on a large scale. This allows us to give a real solution to a serious agricultural problem.” Glen Biotech.
Following this line of research and phytosanitary products, Glen Biotech offers solutions based on fungi for whiteflies plague on tomatoes and pepper, and a solution based on nematodes for insect plagues on palms and agave.
Concern for plagues and searching for new biopesticide solutions is an interest in the global scale. In Argentina, Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA) and Instituto de Microbiología y Zoología Agrícola (IMyZA) have created a pilot plant for the study and production of entomopathogenic fungi. One of the main concerns in Argentina is the boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis), which causes great damage to cotton farms. These entities have developed the first essays with entomopathogenic fungi against the boll weevil, obtaining good results that have motivated more studies to adjust dosage and application of the biopesticide that will allow commercializing a product in the future.
The next plague in the spotlight
Right now, the most dangerous plague in Italy and Spain is Xylella fastidiosa, a proteobacterium introduced in the Iberian Peninsula in 2017. This bacterium infects vine, almond tree and olive tree among others, causing Pierce’s disease. One of the challenges of studying this bacterium is the difficulty to isolate it and grow it in a laboratory. The main spreading route of this plague is through insects who feed of xylem. Even though right now there is no treatment for the infection, efforts are put to find solutions as the use of antibiotics that could be applied in solution or in the shape of its producer species.