1. Agriculture World

Organic Pesticides Can Protect Endangered Crops Naturally; Know-How

Plant disease is estimated to cost the global economy more than €200 billion per year, with pests accounting for 20-40% of agricultural productivity.

Binita Kumari
Given the stakes, it's easy to see why agriculture is one of the most chemically intensive industries on the planet.
Given the stakes, it's easy to see why agriculture is one of the most chemically intensive industries on the planet.

Some diseases are wreaking havoc on some of Europe's most valuable crops, such as vineyards and olives. To improve crop and human health, scientists are looking for biological pesticide alternatives to chemical pesticides.

Invasive species pose a huge threat to agriculture. Plant disease is estimated to cost the global economy more than €200 billion per year, with pests accounting for 20-40% of agricultural productivity.

'The economic loss caused by invasive species is enormous, and if we do nothing, there will be widespread food insecurity, not just in the EU but around the world,' says the report. Dr. Hikmate Abriouel, a microbiology professor at the Universidad de Jaén in Andalusia, Spain, agreed.

Given the stakes, it's easy to see why agriculture is one of the most chemically intensive industries on the planet. The issue of food security is a hot topic these days. However, as Dr. Abriouel goes on to explain, our rising aversion to using pesticides in agriculture complicates farming.

'There was a time when using heavy pesticides to treat agricultural land was routine,' she said. 'However, we now know that a chemical intended to kill a living organism is likely to harm other biological systems as well.'

Spraying crops with synthetic compounds has severe consequences for humans, farm animals, wildlife, pollinators such as bees, and other living creatures that are vital to the ecosystem.

Between 2012 and 2017, roughly 12% of vineyards in France were unproductive owing to Grape Trunk Disease (GTD), which has been expanding across Europe for the previous two decades. Because it is harmful to human and environmental health, a chemical pesticide used to treat vines has been outlawed.

The disease causes a 50% reduction in plant productivity, a drop in wine quality, and premature mortality of healthy vines. Grapevine replacement costs are estimated to be more than €1.4 billion every year around the world.

The EU is financing the worldwide BIOBESTicide initiative to discover a biological solution to GTD as a reaction to this blight. The study focuses on a specific strain of Pythium oligandrum, a 'friendly' fungus found in the rhizosphere of many crop plants, including vines. The microorganism-rich zone of soil right around a plant's roots is known as the rhizosphere.

P. oligandrum works by killing parasites on the spot and inducing plant resistance to future attacks. Greencell and its collaborators discovered that after isolating P. oligandrum in the lab, the biopesticide colonized the roots of vines and enhanced the plant's natural defenses against GTD under particular conditions.

The BIOBESTicide researchers hope to scale up and field-test their biopesticide in vineyards across several geographical locations shortly, after trials and safety approval.

The olive a second famous European crop needs a biopesticide solution. Olive Quick Decline Syndrome (OQDS) is a disease caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, which was first discovered in European olives in 2013.

Xylella has been found in France, Spain, and Portugal, and is spread by a spittlebug. Infected plants are infected from the roots up, producing browning of the leaves and eventual death of the plant. It is regarded as one of the world's most hazardous plant pathogenic bacteria.

Dr. Abriouel, who oversees the EU-funded SMART-AGRI-SPORE project, which intends to produce a biopesticide based on bacterial spores, stated, "The problem with this infection is becoming worse."

Several projects are focused on biopesticides to tackle Xylella. Dr. Julia Manetsberger, the principal researcher, is working with Dr. Abriouel to change a strain of other bacteria to make it deadly to Xylella. The researchers believe that by 2024, this study will have produced a viable biopesticide.

Share your comments

Subscribe to our Newsletter. You choose the topics of your interest and we'll send you handpicked news and latest updates based on your choice.

Subscribe Newsletters