Submitted to: Biological Control
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: July 2, 1996
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: Biological controls for pests and diseases are being developed and marketed as new or alternative treatments for control of agricultural pests. Concern has been raised about the safety of using microorganisms as agents to effect biological control. This paper addresses these concerns and points out the major potential unintended effects of microorganisms to include competitive displacement of nontarget organisms, allergenicity to humans, toxigenicity of metabolites to nontarget organisms and pathogenicity to other organisms. Concerns for these possible ill effects are real, but if each individual microorganism is assessed on its own merits and is reasonably scrutinized to exclude the potential microbial side effects, microorganisms can be and are used safely to control agricultural problems as they are used for many other beneficial uses such as beverage fermentation, bread making or cheese processing. This assessment is useful to scientists, consumers, growers and the general public to allay fears surrounding use of microbially-based biological control systems.
Microorganisms are an enormous but largely untapped natural resource for biological control of pests and diseases. They are underemployed because of 1) the technical difficulties of using microorganisms for biocontrol, owing to lack of basic information on them and their ecology, and 2) the costs of development and registration and other regulatory approvals required for each strain, formulation and use. Agriculture and forestry benefit greatly from the resident communities of microorganisms pathogenic or inhibitory to pest species, but full benefit of this natural control can be achieved only by introducing/applying microorganisms when or where needed. This can be done as 1) an inoculative release, 2) an augmentative application or 3) an inundative application. Because of their specificity, different microbial biocontrol agents typically are needed to control different pests or the same pest in different environments. Four nontarget teffects are identified as potential safety issues associated with the use of microorganisms for the biological control of plant pests and diseases. These are: 1) displacement of nontarget microorganisms, 2) allergenicity to humans, 3) toxigenicity to nontarget organisms, and 4) pathogenicity to nontarget organisms. It is important to establish the safety of microorganisms, but there is no reason why the safety issues should be any different than those for many other beneficial microbial uses, such as beverage fermentation, bread making, or cheese processing.