02/02/21 |   Plant production  Integrated Pest Management

New biopesticide uses two bacterial strains to control caterpillars

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Photo: Fernando Valicente

Fernando Valicente - The microbiological insecticide has to be sprayed on the leaves, and when the caterpillars eat them, they are affected by the action of proteins.

The microbiological insecticide has to be sprayed on the leaves, and when the caterpillars eat them, they are affected by the action of proteins.

  • The biopesticide Acera is formed by two isolates of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria.

  • The technology results from a partnership between Embrapa and the company Ballagro.

  • The product will especially help the crops: soybeans, corn and cotton.

  • Unlike chemical pesticides, the bioproduct only hits the target pest, and is harmless to human beings, to the environment and to other insects.

  • The use of two Bt bacteria isolates hinders increased resistance of the pests to the active principles.

A pesticide composed by an unprecedented mix of two isolates of the Bacillus thuringiensis(Bt) bacteria is the newest bioproduct to control fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda, and soybean looper, Chrysodeixis includens. Acera - the trade name for the product - was developed with Embrapa technology and conceived in partnership with Ballagro Agro Technology, the company that will commercialize it.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a species of bacteria that produces proteins with specific properties that are toxic for insects but harmless for humans and other vertebrates. Unlike chemical pesticides, it is innocuous for the environment. The product has to be sprayed on the leaves, and when the caterpillars eat them, they are affected by the action of such proteins.

“The greatest advantage of this Bt-based biological product is that it does not affect the environment, it does not intoxicate those who apply it, it does not kill the natural enemies of the pests or pollute rivers and springs, hence contributing to sustainability”, details the Embrapa researcher Fernando Hercos Valicente, technology developer and responsible point of contact in the company. “Acera was registered to control those two species of caterpillars and could be used in crops like soybeans, corn, cotton, and many others”, the researcher adds, as he explained that the two Bt isolates used as raw material for the bioproduct came from Embrapa Maize and Sorghum's collection.

Record registration of biological inputs

In 2020, the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (Mapa) approved 95 new biological pest control products. In a note published on their web page, Mapa highlights that this number was a record in comparison with previous years. The ministry also points out that biopesticides are important tools to make Brazilian agriculture even more sustainable.

Preventing increased pest resistance

"Every year, due to several complex issues, an increase in resistance to the main pests controlled by genetically modified cultivars has been observed. Consequently, the concurrent use of chemical control with GM crops has occurred in an attempt to reduce losses in agricultural production. All of that causes expressive economic, social and environmental damages”, Valicente reports, while explaining that by combining two Bt bacterial strains with distinct and complementary modes of action, Acera hinders the emergence of caterpillar resistance to the product.

For all of those reasons, the scientist believes that the use of new microbiological insecticides is an important alternative to control soybean looper (photo below) and fall armyworm, especially for corn, soybean and cotton crops, where they most expressively attack. “Bioinsecticides also contribute to crop sustainability. Due to their biological specificity, they only attack the target insects and promote higher balance in the biodiversity in comparison with chemical pesticides, which has natural enemies remain in the field”, explains the scientist. Natural enemies are insects that help to control the pests, and when the chemical control is used in the croplands, they are also affected.


Technological development

Ballagro is a Brazilian company that has developed biological control technologies for use in agriculture since 2004. “With a focus on innovation and technical work, we have developed technologies for the growth of biological control in the management of pests and diseases,” reports the company's manager of products and market, Lecio Kaneko. According to him, in Brazil there is a growing demand for sustainable management tools, which will promote good acceptance of the product in the national market.

He recalls that the partnership with Embrapa started in 2014, with the purpose of developing a bioinsecticide to control pests like the Spodoptera frugiperda (photo below) and Helicoverpa armigera caterpillars. “The work resulted in Acera, composed by an innovative mix of two Bt isolates that offer a wide range of action on leaf stripper caterpillars”, the manager adds. Because of that, he anticipates that the product description may include other pests in the future.

Kaneko attributes the high efficiency of the bioproduct to the diversity of Cry and VIP proteins, which are produced for these new isolates of the bacteria, and to the high technology in fermentation and formulation especially developed for Acera. “It was tested in all of the regions of Brazil, with excellent results”, he celebrates.

“The current situation and the prospects for new bioinputs by Embrapa are quite promising. The Corporation has dedicated Research, Development and Innovation efforts for decades towards the typification and use of useful microorganisms to control of environmental stresses in cultivated plants, including pest control, phosphorus and potassium solubilizers, and nitrogen fixators”, states the head of Embrapa Maize and Sorghum, Frederico Ozanan Machado Durães. “Notably, after the launch of the National Bioinputs Program, coordinated by Mapa, we observed a significant increase in alliances, partnerships and business negotiations with the market in the area”, he reports.

He reveals that the product responds to one of Embrapa's innovation challenges, aimed at increasing the participation of biological inputs to control pests, promote growth, supply nutrients, replace antibiotics and other agro-industrial applications either in conventional production systems or ecologically-based ones.

The researchers are now studying the viability of Acera being applied through drones.


Acera's official launch will take place on February 9, 2021, at 7pm (BRT). The event will be broadcast live from Embrapa's YouTube channel.

Sandra Brito (MTb 06.230/MG)
Embrapa Maize and Sorghum

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Mariana Medeiros (Translation - English)
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