What is biological control?
Biological control is defined as the use of living organisms to suppress the population of a specific pest, making it less abundant or less harmful. The term "pest" is defined as any plant, animal, or pathogenic agent species, lineage, or biotype that harms or potentially harms plants or animals.
How is biological control research done?
In the course of their studies, scientists reproduce in the labs the relationships that occur among living beings in nature, as follows:
• The first stage is the survey and collection of natural enemies in the environment;
• This is followed by the processes of isolating, identifying, characterizing and assessing their efficiency as biological control agents.
• At the third stage, products based on biological control agents are developed, and their efficiency in the fields and biological security are assessed. In many cases, these studies are conducted in partnership with other public and private institutions and also involve agroecosystem management to favor existing natural enemies .
What are biological control agents?
Beneficial insects, predators, parasitoids, and microrganismos such as fungi, virus, and bacteria with pathogenic potential over insect pests. They can be native to Brazil or exotic (introduced in Brazil from other countries).
How do we know if these natural enemies are harmless to human health and the environment?
Researchers study these organisms to evaluate their pathogenic potential (capacity to cause diseases) against target organisms, that is, those that damage crops, and also against non-target organisms, which can be other insects, animals and human beings.
Is biological control a good option to reduce the use of agrochemicals in Brazil?
Yes, as it offers sustainable and biological solutions with potential to control agricultural pests, without causing damages to human or animal health, or to the environment.
Has Embrapa already developed any biological products?
Yes, Embrapa has already developed four biological insecticides, or bioinseticides, to control agricultural pests and disease-transmitting insects:
1) Sphaerus SC - to control the malaria mosquito (Anopheles)
2) Bt-Horus – effective against yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti)
3) Ponto Final – to control caterpillars that infest maize and vegetable crops
4) Fim da Picada – efficient against blackfly
Why are they called biological products?
Because they do not contain any chemical substances in their formulas. The products mentioned in the previous answer were developed from entomopathogenic (i.e. specific against the target insect) bacteria: Bacillus thuringiensis and Bacillus sphaericus. This means that they are only capable of causing harm to the insects, and are completely harmless for other living organisms and the environment. Such bacteria are already widely used in biological control programs in the whole world, with the recommendation of the World Health Organization.
Are these products already in the market? Is it possible to purchase them from Embrapa?
Yes, they are already in the market, but they cannot be acquired directly from Embrapa. The corporation is responsible for the development of the product, but the technology is then transferred to the private sector, which becomes responsible for trading it.
How does Embrapa find such bacteria?
The bacteria used in the formulation of the bioinsecticides were collected from Brazilian soils, which not only makes them more effective against the insects, but also more adapted to the climate conditions of the country, reducing their production costs. Embrapa systematically invests in the collection of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, and viruses) to later test their potential against insect pests in its laboratories. The fact of the company has units in the entire domestic territory facilitates such research.
And how does Embrapa keep such microorganisms?
The microorganisms are conserved in collections, which can be kept in several ways: liquid nitrogen tanks (where they are preserved at -196ºC), freezers, and in test tubes. The collection of entomopathogenic bacteria, for example, from which the lineages that originated the biological insecticides derived, today has more than 2,500 lineages characterized and conserved in high security conditions within Embrapa's laboratories, in Brasília, DF. Today, these and other microorganisms are at the disposal of Embrapa and other Brazilian and international research institutions for the development of other biological products.