Increasing public sensitivity to environmental pollution and problems of pest resistance to chemical pesticides has led to a global consensus to reduce or phase out extremely noxious pesticides. This has prompted considerable interest in more benign crop protection strategies including the use of fungal biocontrol agents (BCAs). Significant progress has been made in recent years in the development of these agents for the control of pests (insects, nematodes), weeds and diseases of a wide range of forest, horticultural and agricultural crops. However, few products reach the market. More fungal BCAs would be available to growers if production and development costs could be reduced. One major hurdle is the registration and in particular the risk assessment of BCAs, since there are no guidelines or simulation models available to evaluate the fate of secreted fungal metabolites in the environment. Little is known about the range of metabolites produced and whether they enter the food chain so posing a risk to human and animal health. This project will generate data that could help address key registration questions: an alternative where pests have built up resistance to synthetic chemical plant protection products or where these have been withdrawn.
The overall aim of this unique project is to establish whether metabolites produced by fungal BCAs enter the food chain and if they pose a risk to human and animal health. This will be achieved through:
- development of sensitive tools (e.g. biosensors) and methods (including high throughput assays like ELISA and the Vitotoxin test) for rapid and accurate detection of fungal metabolites,
- biochemical and molecular studies to elucidate their mode of action,
- molecular markers to monitor fungal BCAs in the environment
- studies to determine if metabolites enter the food chain and, if so, identify the route of entry and type and quantities present.
- Methodologies and tools for sensitive, high throughput screening of fungal BCA metabolites;
- Molecular probes to monitor fungal BCAs, and biosensors as an alternative to whole animal testing;
- Methods and data to accelerate risk assessment of fungal metabolites and reduce registration costs;
- Data that will help end users (policy makers, registration authorities, industry) and the public in making more informed decisions regarding the risks, if any, fungal BCA metabolites pose to human and animal health;
- Data on the role and mode of action of fungal BCA metabolites.