Nav: Home

Researchers discover sustainable and natural alternative to man-made chemical pesticides

March 04, 2019

Repurposing a strain of beneficial bacteria could offer a safe, sustainable and natural alternative to man-made chemical pesticides, according to research from Cardiff University.

Finding natural approaches to sustain agriculture and food production is a major global challenge. Synthetic chemical pesticides have traditionally been used to protect crops, but there are growing concerns around their toxicity and the threat they pose to ecosystems.

Using genomic techniques, the team of researchers discovered that Burkholderia ambifaria bacteria have the potential to be used as biopesticides that are both effective and safe.

Biopesticides offer a natural means of protection and the group of bacteria called Burkholderia have been successfully used to protect crops against diseases. However, in the 1990s, Burkholderia bacteria were linked to serious lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis (CF), leading to concerns about their safety and eventual withdrawal of these biopesticides from the market.

"I have been working with Burkholderia for many years, primarily in relation to CF lung infections, which in turn led to a new line of antibiotic discovery research," explained Professor Eshwar Mahenthiralingam, lead researcher on the project, from Cardiff University's School of Biosciences.

"Working with plant scientist, Professor Jim Murray, Head of the School of Biosciences, and Doctoral Training Partnership student, Alex Mullins, we decided to take this research in a new direction, investigating Burkholderia-plant interactions and how they protect plants against disease.

"By sequencing the genomic DNA of the bacteria, we were able to identify Burkholderia's antibiotic-making gene, Cepacin. Further testing demonstrated that Cepacin offered highly effective protection against damping off - a horticultural disease caused by a fungus-like organism."

Using genetic engineering techniques similar to those used to produce live vaccines, the researchers are also exploring how to improve the safety of the bacteria.

"Burkholderia split their genomic DNA across 3 fragments, called replicons," said Professor Mahenthiralingam.

"We removed the smallest of these 3 replicons to create a mutant Burkholderia strain which, when tested on germinating peas, still demonstrated excellent biopesticidal properties."

Further work showed that this Burkholderia mutant did not persist in a mouse lung infection model, opening up the possibility of constructing biopesticidal strains that are incapable of causing infection but can still deliver effective plant protection.

In collaboration with chemists, Professor Greg Challis and Dr Matthew Jenner, at the University of Warwick, who helped discover Cepacin, the team recently obtained a grant award of over £1 million from BBSRC. This will help progress the next stage of research to develop an effective and safe biopesticide that does not build up to harmful levels in the environment.

"Beneficial bacteria such as Burkholderia that have co-evolved naturally with plants, have a key role to play in a sustainable future. We have to understand the risks, mitigate against them and seek a balance that works for all," continued Professor Mahenthiralingam.

"Through our work, we hope to make Burkholderia viable as an effective biopesticide, with the ultimate aim of making agriculture and food production safer, more sustainable, and toxin-free."
-end-
The research 'Genome mining identifies cepacin as a plantprotective metabolite of the biopesticidal bacterium Burkholderia ambifaria' is published in Nature Microbiology.

Notes for editors

1. For further information contact:

Mike Bishop
Communications and Marketing
Cardiff University
Tel: 02920 874499
Email: bishopm1@cardiff.ac.uk

Julia Short
Communications & Marketing
Cardiff University
Tel: 02920 875596
Email: ShortJ4@cardiff.ac.uk

2. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain's leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK's most research intensive universities. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework ranked the University 5th in the UK for research excellence. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University's breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff's flagship Research Institutes are offering radical new approaches to pressing global problems. http://www.cardiff.ac.uk

Cardiff University

Related Bacteria Articles:

Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.
How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.
The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?
Detecting bacteria in space
A new genomic approach provides a glimpse into the diverse bacterial ecosystem on the International Space Station.
Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.
Bacteria uses viral weapon against other bacteria
Bacterial cells use both a virus -- traditionally thought to be an enemy -- and a prehistoric viral protein to kill other bacteria that competes with it for food according to an international team of researchers who believe this has potential implications for future infectious disease treatment.
Drug diversity in bacteria
Bacteria produce a cocktail of various bioactive natural products in order to survive in hostile environments with competing (micro)organisms.
Bacteria walk (a bit) like we do
EPFL biophysicists have been able to directly study the way bacteria move on surfaces, revealing a molecular machinery reminiscent of motor reflexes.
Using bacteria to create a water filter that kills bacteria
Engineers have created a bacteria-filtering membrane using graphene oxide and bacterial nanocellulose.
Probiotics are not always 'good bacteria'
Researchers from the Cockrell School of Engineering were able to shed light on a part of the human body - the digestive system -- where many questions remain unanswered.
More Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.