S1052: The Working Group on Improving Microbial Control of Arthropod Pests
Statement of Issues and JustificationBroad-spectrum chemical insecticides continue to be the mainstay for control of arthropod pests in most agricultural systems as well as other natural and urban landscapes. While chemical pesticides are capable of rapidly killing various pests, heavy reliance on their use has generated various problems including safety risks due to human poisonings and death, outbreaks of secondary pests normally held in check by natural enemies, environmental contamination, decreases in biodiversity, and insecticide resistance. Thus, there is an urgent need to accelerate the development and implementation of cost-effective, environmentally safe alternatives to chemical pesticides for arthropod control. Changes in pest management programs, such as the reduction in organophosphate use dictated by the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), necessitate the development of new management tactics that are environmentally sound and compatible with current production practices. One viable alternative to chemical insecticides is the use of biological control agents. In contrast to chemical insecticides, biological control agents are generally not harmful to humans or the environment, and have minimal or negligible potential to cause resistance or harm non-target organisms. Biological control includes the use of insect predators, parasitoids, and pathogens. The focus of this project is on the development and advancement of entomopathogens for biological pest suppression. Development of biological control tactics using entomopathogens (i.e., microbial control) is of great importance to US agriculture. The Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy (ESCOP), and National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) have identified environmental stewardship, including the need to decrease chemical pesticide use, as a primary agricultural challenge in the US. Furthermore, most stakeholder groups developing strategic plans for pest management throughout the U.S. have identified biological control as a major research need, and many have specifically identified use of entomopathogens as a priority. Some examples that list the development of entomopathogens as a priority include pecan, peaches, apples and grapes (http://www.ipmcenters.org/).
Microbial control research and application has already had major impacts on IPM during the past fifty years. The commercialization of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) products, including Bt-transgenic plants, is probably the most notable and commercially significant. New discoveries of suitable entomopathogens and advances in their production have facilitated the commercialization of numerous products. However, despite the progress that has been made, entomopathogens still represent an under-developed and under-utilized resource in arthropod pest management. Thus additional research is required to expand the use of entomopathogens in biological control. New scientific tools, including molecular markers, genomics, in vitro production techniques, and others allow for novel discovery, identification, and development of entomopathogens previously overlooked or out of reach. The key challenges that limit microbial control for arthropod pests will be addressed in this project including: enhancing efficacy through strain discovery and improvement, advancing production and delivery, integration with existing management techniques, conservation of endemic entomopathogens, and gaining greater understanding of fundamental entomopathogen biology and ecology to further improve applied pest management. The project objectives will be grouped by agroecosystem (annuals, perennials, and urban/natural systems). The consequences of not doing the proposed research include increased chemical pesticides in the environment (risking the health of humans and other nontargets) and increased crop losses due to endemic and invasive pests.
Given that the research needs indicated above are common to numerous commodities across the US, a cooperative multi-state approach is demanded to provide broad impact solutions that are widely applicable. Entomopathogens and their pest insect hosts are not limited by artificial boundaries. Therefore, tests of efficacy, persistence, safety, resistance management and other parameters must be conducted under different sets of environmental conditions across state lines. Protocols must be developed and standardized for the diverse types of research being proposed. Thus, to be successful in fulfilling the objectives of this project proposal, multi-state cooperative research among State Agricultural Experiment Stations, USDA research groups, and industry is required.
We anticipate that the project will produce substantial benefits for both producer and consumer stakeholder groups. Stakeholders will include farmers, biocontrol producers, the scientific community and the general public. Experiments will be conducted in numerous cropping systems; and, given the broad nature of the research, we anticipate significant knowledge transfer to additional crops during the project period. Foremost, the proposed research will facilitate transition away from the reliance on chemical insecticide usage by providing effective and environmentally-friendly alternatives. Further development of insect pathogens for use in pest management programs will fill vital gaps in pest management caused by removal of broad spectrum chemicals. This is of particular importance in specialty crops that have few remaining pest management options. Furthermore, as new pest assemblages arise, novel microbial control tactics will contribute substantially to the development of innovative integrated pest management programs. Additionally, microbial control is poised to play an important role in transgenic crops (e.g., in resistance management) and in the control of invasive pests. The proposed project will improve quality of life by providing farmers tools to manage arthropod pests without risk of poisoning, and by providing the public with food containing less chemical residues. Economic opportunities will be created by enhancing the biological control industry and improving the productivity of various crops. Finally, fundamental studies conducted within this project will lead to advances in broader scientific disciplines, e.g., ecology, pathology, genetics and molecular biology. The broad and unique expertise represented by this working group will enable us to achieve our ambitious objectives. This project strongly addresses several US agriculture and SAAESD Priority Areas, particularly Priorities 1, 4, and 5, i.e., Developing greater harmony between agriculture and the environment; Establishing an agricultural systems that is highly competitive in the global economy, and Enhanced economic opportunity and quality of life for Americans.
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