“Friendly” microorganisms as an alternative to chemical pesticides

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“Friendly” microorganisms as an alternative to chemical pesticides

Guarantee a food production enough for the entire world population is one of the sustainable development goals of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations. However, this is not possible without controlling crop loss caused by plant diseases. For this it is necessary to develop new, sustainable and safe methods. And here it invades with force biological control or biocontrol, which consists of using harmless microorganisms to prevent plants from getting sick. Sounds good, right?

The plague of phytopathogens

Microorganisms that attack plants are called phytopathogens. This Infectious agents can attack the roots, leaves, stems, or even the fruit, which in some cases leads to the death of the plant. Their occurrence has a major economic impact on the agri-food sector: the FAO estimates that 220 billion dollars (around 200 billion euros) are lost every year to diseases in agricultural crops.

As if that wasn’t enough climate change causes the emergence and increased severity and spread of bacteria and fungi pathogens. It is therefore essential to have effective control methods in place.

Traditionally, such control was carried out using chemical compounds antimicrobial agents. However, there are many reasons why its use should be restricted.

First, due to the increase in treatment-resistant microorganisms. This increase in resistance needs to be looked at from a perspective a health (consider the health of people, animals and the environment as a whole), and agriculture plays a fundamental role in this regard.

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Aside from that, Residues of these compounds can pose serious human and animal health problems as well as for the environment. For this reason, its use is regulated in the European Union, which constantly reviews the list of authorized products. Add to this the rise of organic farming, which has banned the use of many of these chemical antimicrobials.

Fight to the death between microbes

Microorganisms used to combat plant diseases are referred to as biological control agents (BCAs). These little allies are chosen from the same environments in which they will be deployed. In this way it is clear that they have adapted well to this place and will persist after application.

In addition, its release cannot pose an ecological problem and, for example, affect other beneficial microorganisms living there. Therefore, KBAs are selected that are specific against the pathogen to be controlled but do not act against the normal microbiota of the ecosystem.

To understand biological control, one has to imagine a little miniature war. The pathogen and the ACB will face each other to effectively colonize and develop on the plant. If the first wins, the disease will appear, and if the ACB wins, the plant will remain healthy.

How does biological control work?

The mechanisms by which ACB prevents pathologies in plants are very diverse. Most of the time they manage to prevent the development of the pathogen and to carry it to another place. The ACB is highly adapted, grows rapidly and leaves no space or nutrients for the harmful microorganism to colonize the plant.

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Another important asset is the production of antimicrobial compounds by the ACB kill or prevent the attacker from growing. This is an ancient mechanism that microorganisms use naturally to compete with the environment and find good living space. In this case, this circumstance is simply exploited in order to obtain a benefit for the harvest.

But that is not all. Many times, The presence of ACB suggests an increase in the plant’s defences. In this way, the plant is better prepared to quickly protect itself in the event of the arrival of a pathogen.

A mushroom that drowns like a boa constrictor

Most often, the same agent acts with different mechanisms. it does too trichoderma one of the most important KBAs due to its high effectiveness against numerous pathogens.

This mushroom is a jack of all trades and has unmatched properties. used to control plant diseases. It grows very quickly in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can use a wide variety of nutrients. In addition, many strains produce a wide range of antimicrobial agents, as well as other compounds that may enhance plant defenses.

However, the most incredible feature of trichoderma This is what is known as hyperparasitism. This ACB is able to directly and specifically attack other pathogenic fungi. With its filaments, it can squeeze them like a boa constrictor and produce enzymes that break down the pathogen’s cells.

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Biopesticides are coming (timidly)

There are currently some commercial formulations that contain bacteria and fungi for the biological control of relevant plant diseases. These products are called biopesticides. However, they make up only 5% of the global pesticide market. Much work remains to be done to obtain effective products that will overcome all legal procedures.

The first step is to develop a stable formula. The product must maintain viable ACB for as long as possible At the same time, it maximizes its antagonistic effect after application.

After development and patenting, the product must be registered for use in agriculture. This process guarantees that all safety criteria are met, both in terms of health and environmental issues. The requirements are very strict. This means that many KBAs that appear promising on a laboratory scale are never used in practice.

The use of beneficial microorganisms to combat other pathogens in agriculture is a clear example of the good side of microbiology. There is still a long way to go, but hopefully it will be the sustainable and effective alternative to chemical pesticides in the future.

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