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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Peoria, Illinois » National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research » Crop Bioprotection Research » Research » Research Project #439067

Research Project: Discovery and Production of Beneficial Microbes for Control of Agricultural Pests through Integration into Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems

Location: Crop Bioprotection Research

Project Number: 5010-22410-023-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Sep 14, 2020
End Date: Sep 13, 2025

Objective 1: Develop effective entomopathogenic fungi for implementation as augmentative biological controls to support integrated pest management systems. Objective 2: Expand fundamental knowledge of biological interactions between the beneficial pathogens(s), target host pest and crop environment to enhance the production, formulation, and application of beneficial microbial products for sustainable pest management.

The commercial use of microbial pathogens as biopesticides to manage crop pests continues to be constrained not only by expensive production methods, limited shelf-life, and variable pest control efficacy, but also by a lack of understanding of how basic fungal metabolism affects liquid-culture production in the factory and pest control efficacy in the field. This research project focuses on developing beneficial microbes (predominantly entomopathogenic fungi) as biopesticides and follows a vertical research path from understanding microbe metabolism during liquid culture production through practical formulation processing and integrative application into pest management systems. Although we have empirical data supporting efficient production of beneficial fungi, we still lack a basic understanding of the interaction between physical and nutritional conditions of liquid culture and the basic metabolisms of these organisms. To fill this void, effective microbial biopesticides will be developed by uncovering at the molecular level how entomopathogenic microbes interact with nutritional and environmental conditions present during the production, formulation, and application processes. Gaining this understanding is critical given that these processes likely affect fungal differentiation, biopesticide yield, product stability, and pest control efficacy. Post-production, research will evaluate specific processing and formulation technologies to create a usable product that retains physical characteristics suited for application against targeted pests and is expected to focus on product storage and handling characteristics for sprayable (yeast-like blastospores) and granular (microsclerotia-based) fungal biopesticides. Following application, the host plant environment will be studied to identify interactions among a variety of pest control practices (e.g. crop genetics providing host plant resistance to fungal pathogens) within specific cropping systems. Microbial biopesticides represent an additional tool for the management of crop pests. Non-chemical pest control tools such as these are particularly important for organic, chemically sensitive, and natural environments where few pest control measures are available, and to avoid the development of pesticide resistance to current chemical insecticides and transgenic crops used for pest control. The strategic development of microbial biocontrol agents will enhance the nation’s ability to effectively control pests and support increasingly sustainable crop production.