Understanding the impact of phylloplane biocontrol agents on insects
Aphids are a major pest of both agricultural and horticultural crops, causing physical damage and transmitting plant viruses. However, the ever decreasing availability of pesticides, and reliance on sub-optimal parasitoids/predators, means there is a need to innovate alternative approaches to aphid control. Using previous HDC funding (HDC Studentship Project CP 082), research at the University of Reading has identified several highly effective aphid killing biocontrol bacteria. The mechanisms underlying this are being studied, but now is a timely opportunity to capitalise on this discovery to manipulate the bacteria and prove they are safe for use.
This project seeks to determine whether we can evolve improved aphid killing ability in the bacteria to enhance the aphidicidal properties – this is a natural, non-GM approach thus making the subsequent new biocontrol bacteria more suitable for use and complementary to an Integrated Pest Management strategy. Another key aim of this project will be to examine the effects of aphid biocontrol bacteria on insect ecology and behaviour. This will include studying the effects on natural enemies and non-target insects following exposure to aphids treated with lethal and sub-lethal doses of bacteria. It will also examine the likelihood of resistance occurring in the target pest.
Taken together, these experiments, coupled with ongoing research, will set the foundation for future commercialisation of the biocontrol bacteria and provide growers with a new resource for controlling aphids.
The project will carry out a series of innovative experiments to improve the efficiency of the aphid killing bacteria and prove that they are safe and can be used within an integrated pest management framework. This will significantly increase the impact of the research by providing the foundations for future work in developing the bacteria commercially.