Biological pest control via nematode ‘breeding’ and smart fungi
The European project BIOCOMES brings together companies and research institutes that are looking to bring new means of biological pest control to the market as a way for the EU to stimulate integrated pest management (IPM). “After two years, we are now halfway through the project and have already made some concrete achievements,” says BIOCOMES coordinator Jürgen Köhl, scientist in phytopathology at Wageningen UR.
One of the 11 products in the framework of BIOCOMES is a nematode that can be used against the larvae of the corn rootworm. “Working together with universities in the Azores and in Israel, the German company and BIOCOMES partner e-nema managed to ‘breed’ more effective nematodes by selecting worms that are better able to attack the corn rootworm larvae,” Köhl explains. “In addition, the nematodes were also selected for heat and drought tolerance, making them simpler to use as pest control.”Replacing synthetic methods
Of the 11 products in the BIOCOMES programme, e-nema’s nematodes are the closest to representing a concrete commercial product. “This is an excellent example of integrated pest management,” Köhl says. “Right now, corn rootworm is primarily tackled with neonicotinoids. We think it would be good if this project helped us create a biological alternative against these harmful beetles.”Fungus
Köhl’s BIOCOMES team is involved in other areas, such as the selection of fungi that can be used as an antagonist against wheat mildew. “We started our project in Wageningen with some thousand isolates of fungi, which were initially screened for aspects such as drought tolerance. The 185 isolates that remained were used to inoculate grains affected by mildew. We now have ten different fungi which are probably worth the effort to continue to develop against mildew.”Partnerships between industry and research
Köhl and his colleagues are working with German and Swedish companies and research institutes in the mildew project. “This is the great value of this project,” he emphasises. “The cooperation between private and academic partners ensures substantive progress on the road to integrated pest management.”
The BIOCOMES project, which is subsidised by the EU to the tune of nine million euros, runs until the end of 2017. “While not all subprojects will have resulted in concrete products on the shelves at the end of this period, we are making significant steps in the right direction.”