Biopesticides for a more sustainable agriculture

"Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the quality and safety of the food they consume and, therefore, there is a generalized rejection of the use of chemical pesticides in food production: both because of the potential harm they can have on health and the environmental impact that comes from manufacturing them." This is how Alicia Gonzalez, a researcher at the Cajamar Experimental Station, started an article in which she analyzes the keys to safely using pesticides.

In her opinion, all of the agricultural food sector's production chain is aware of this, which has led to a gradual decrease in the use of chemical pesticides, which are being replaced by biopesticides and biological control systems that allow greater safety and food sustainability.

However, the biological control tools available today must continuously improve their effectiveness and cope with new phytopathogens that emerge. Biopesticides are mainly used as preventive measures against phytopathogens in plants, controlling pests by non-toxic mechanisms and in an ecological way.

Currently, the biopesticides available on the market come mainly from plant extracts, some fermentation products and microorganisms. There are no products derived from cyanobacteria, even though these microorganisms have been widely referenced as producers of biopesticides against insects, fungi, and bacteria.

The need for a continuous food supply has led conventional agriculture to be heavily dependent on products of chemical synthesis. The consumers and governments' growing concern over food safety has led producers to explore new green methods to replace, or at least complement, current practices based on chemical products.

The use of biopesticides has emerged as a promising alternative to chemical pesticides. The grain, oilseed, fruit, and vegetable-crop sectors drive the current growth of the biopesticide market; however, there is an upward trend for the use of biopesticides in forestry.

According to the FAO, the world population will grow by 39% in 20 years, to 9,100 million in 2050. To provide food for everybody, it will be necessary to increase world production by 60%. Agriculture must face a double challenge, be more productive and reduce its impact on the environment. In this context, the use of biopesticides to control pests and diseases in crops seems to be a better alternative than the use of conventional chemical pesticides due to their harmful effects on the nature and health of people.

Although its use is not too complicated, the application of some biopesticides may require a high knowledge of the diseases and pathogens to be controlled. As with any disease control program, the right timing and application are essential.

Use of cyanobacteria in agriculture
Cyanobacteria are unicellular microorganisms and photosynthetic cell clusters that have a wide diversity and distribution in the world. Cyanobacteria are well known for producing a variety of secondary metabolites, including anti-algae, anti-fungal, antiviral, and cytotoxic compounds.

These bioactive compounds belong to the group of polyketides, amides, alkaloids, fatty acids, indoles, and lipopeptides. Several researchers have shown that several compounds from certain cyanobacteria and microalgae show anti-fungal activity against several fungal plant pathogens. This idea gave way to the ALGAE4CONTROL "Production of biopesticides from cyanobacteria for use in agriculture" project, which will last 3 years and aims at developing biopesticide formulations based on the use of antimicrobial metabolites from cyanobacteria (microalgae).


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