(Beyond Pesticides, July 9, 2010) Researchers at Swansea University in the UK have discovered a naturally occurring fungus as an alternative to pesticides for a wide range of crops. The fungal biological control agent, Metarhizium anisopliae, performed very well against the larvae of western flower thrips and vine weevils when applied as a spray or premixed into the growing medium. The researchers were able to achieve almost total control of the pest by combining the Metarhizium with nematodes, making it a huge environmental success.
Professor Tariq Butt, who led the ongoing research at Swansea observed, “The benefits are far reaching””not just for those with organic farms or nurseries but also for conventional growers, offering an effective, environmentally friendly alternative to chemicals.” Professor Butt, from the University’s School of Environment and Society, believes this new development could help reduce the use of pesticides and their impact on the environment while reducing costs for farmers.
The project was funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under the UK Horticulture LINK program, the government’s main vehicle for sponsoring applied research in horticulture. You can read the official university press release here.
The fungus has been registered in Europe with Novozymes, a company that specializes in enzymes and other bio-based solutions. Hugh Frost, European agronomist at Novozymes told Wales Online, “The Novozymes BioAg business has been working with Swansea University to better understand the performance of the entomopathogenic fungus, Metarhizium anisopliae, and so develop products that can be registered for innovative, biological crop protection. Research is ongoing and Novozymes is keen to investigate the further potential of this fungus in controlling other insects, in wider application, to assist growers in producing crops in an efficient, yet sustainable manner that meets their challenges of a decreasing portfolio of conventional pesticides.”
This is not the first time a fungus has proven to be an effective natural pesticide. In 2009, an Australian government study has shown that lice on sheep may be controlled by fungal biopesticides. Researchers at Utah State University are studying a fungus that kills Mormon crickets (Anabrus simplex) by depositing spores inside them that multiply and eventually break through their exoskeletons.
In 2006, mushroom expert Paul Stamets spoke at Beyond Pesticides National Pesticide Forum in Washington, DC and discussed, among other things, the role fungi can play in controlling insects in the home. Mr. Stamets and his colleagues have also been working with Metarhizium anisopliae to control insects in the home. He has figured out a way to grow fungi that delay their spore formation and actually attract the insect to the fungus, thus breaking through an obstacle in using fungi to protect homes from carpenter ants and termites. However, in doing so, he says his philosophy “is not to wage war against the insect kingdom but to enlist fungal allies for the intelligent, natural, and localized control of targeted insects… We seek balance, not extinction.”
Watch Paul Stamets’s presentation in streaming video and read the article, “Fungi To The Rescue: Biopesticide derived from mold has promise as a greener method for eradicating unwanted insects,” in the Winter 2007 issue of Pesticides and You.