July/August – 2007
Story Title: Bioinsecticide Breakthrough
by: Ana Ollo Hualde
A new bioinsecticide – non-contaminant and harmless, and is highly effective against the most common greenhouse pest in Almeria, Spain.
A research team at the Public University of Navarre (Spain), led by Professor in Plant Production, Primitivo Caballero Murillo, has developed a new natural bioinsecticide which is non-contaminant and harmless to humans and animals (including other insects) but is, nevertheless, very effective against the most common greenhouse pest in the Almeria region and other areas.
The patent is to be exploited for the first time in Spain by the main Fruit & Vegetable Crop and Export Producers’ Association in Almeria, COEXPHAL, that brings together more than 90 companies, 60 of them cooperatives in which some 10,000 farmers work, and who produce 80% of the fruit and vegetable harvest in this Andalusian province.
It is an important milestone in the transfer to society of applied technology and research and developed by the Public University of Navarre – a success story of cooperation between University and enterprise.
Clean, environmentally-friendly technologies
The Crop Protection Research Group at the University School of Agricultural Engineers of the Public University of Navarre have been working for a number of years now on developing various biological pesticides by means of clean and environmentally-friendly technologies.
One of the most relevant recent contributions has been the molecular and insecticide characterization of a baculovirus which affects the Small Spotted Willow (UK)/beet armyworm (US), Spodoptera exigua. This lepidoptera is the pest responsible for the greatest damage to the main greenhouse crops in Almeria such as tomato, pepper, watermelon, melon, cucumber and aubergine (eggplant), amongst others. It is a pest that causes great production costs and significant economic loss.
Sweet green pepper greenhouse in Almeria, Spain.
In order to control the pest, over the past 60 years systematic and almost exclusive use has been made of chemical pesticides. This abuse has produced quite a number of problems, such as the development of resistance by the insect pest and the accumulation of chemical waste in the environment which has led to a situation that is non-sustainable. Moreover, the European norms limiting waste have to be complied with when marketing fruit and vegetables.
Research teams throughout the world are currently working on the development of bioinsecticides which enable the provision of protection systems for sustainable crops and which are safe for the health of people and the conservation of the environment. In this respect, one of the most promising alternatives is the series of bioinsecticides based on the baculovirus. These pathogenic virus of insects bring together highly desirable insecticide properties – good efficaciousness, high ecological selectivity and the non-generation of toxic waste. Moreover, its high compatibility with most pest control methods (including with other biological control agents and chemical control) has to be underlined. All this has been helped by the fact that it is the only virus recommended by the FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization) at the UN and approved by WHO (World Health Organization) for use as biological control agents. There are currently more than 30 bioinsecticides based on this type of technology.
COEXPHAL producers’ association market the product
The results from the research team have enabled the application for taking out a patent on the utilities which certain genotypes of this baculovirus have for the control of the Spodoptera pest in greenhouse fruit and vegetable crops in the south of Spain.
More specifically, the patent has been taken out on six new genotypes of the nuclear polyhydron virus of the Spodoptera, which has shown its specific efficacy in the larvae of this insect. In this respect, the team has invented a product that involves clean and safe technology as it does not leave any toxic waste either for crops, humans or animals.
The success of this new bioinsecticide caught the attention of the main Fruit & Vegetable Producers’ Association in Almeria, COEXPHAL, with which the researchers have signed two research contracts over the past two years. The aim of these was to undertake two projects to determine the insecticide potential of this baculovirus for the control of Spodoptera over more than 300 hectares of market garden greenhouses in Almeria. The results showed that the patented baculovirus protects the crops better than any other control method that has been used to date (mainly various chemical pesticides). Moreover, the use of the baculovirus significantly favours the more extensive use of biological control in greenhouse areas and eliminates the problems of the waste generated on using chemical pesticides.
The farmers themselves, the professional experts, the cooperatives and the research team scientists from the Public University of Navarre have all viewed these results very positively. Proof of this is that, in the market gardening zone of Almeria, a demand has been generated for the treatment next year of several thousand hectares with the baculovirus developed at the Public University of Navarre.
The Public University of Navarre has transferred this technology to COEXPHAL by means of signing an exclusive licence contract for the exploitation of the invention, which is currently pending a patent.
This means that the Association will exclusively exploit this invention, enabling it to use, manufacture and sell this bioinsecticide. In exchange, the Public University of Navarre will receive 180,000 euros. Besides, each year over the duration of the 20-year contract, COEXPHAL will earmark 4.2% of the sales for carrying out R&D work or for consultations related to the development of the patent.