Globally, invertebrate pests (e.g. insects, mites, nematodes) cause hundreds of billions of pounds worth of damage to arable crops and forests every year, impacting global food security. This will only get worse with climate change and resistance to existing pesticides. With increased restrictions on chemical pesticides due to their effect on the environment, biopesticides (naturally occurring substances that control pests) have emerged as a viable alternative but need testing and registration with regulatory authorities.
Research conducted by Prof Tariq Butt and his team discovered that the fungus Metarhizium brunneum is an effective biocontrol agent against major plant pests such as thrips and weevils. Through extensive laboratory toxicity testing and fieldwork with industrial and academic partners they found that Metarhizium and its metabolites do not persist in the soil. Furthermore, the metabolites are produced in extremely low amounts and are unlikely to enter the food chain, making the fungus safe to use on crops. Prof Butt and his team discovered that volatile metabolites of M. brunneum conferred benefits to the plant such as repelling or killing soil invertebrate pests such plant parasitic nematode and molluscs. Together with industry these volatiles are being developed as new plant protection products.
Prof Butt’s research has informed the European Commission on the safety of Metarhizium fungal metabolites and paved the way for the registration of M. brummeun. Products such as Met52 and GranMet have been commercially formulated from M. brunnuem and sold in Europe. In addition, Prof Butt’s research is being used by international companies such as Certis BV to formulate new next-generation biopesticides based on natural products. These will replace current chemical pesticides which have been or are being withdrawn from the market. He continues to work with European partners on reducing the regulatory burden around metabolites, and with industrial partners to discover and test new biocontrol agents.