19 July 2016 15:07

A Lancaster University scientist has been awarded new funding to develop human and bee-friendly pesticide technology.

Professor Kenneth Wilson of Lancaster University’s Environment Centre, has been awarded £111,687, as part of a £287,543 project, from the UK’s Agritech Catalyst fund, administered by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, and co-funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The award will be used to develop a novel biopesticide technology for the protection of food crops from destructive insect pests including caterpillars, sawflies and beetles.

Crop pests, such as armyworm, bollworm and leafworm caterpillars, are responsible for immense yield losses globally, estimated to be in the region of 20-40%, causing billions of pounds of food waste each year. These insects are susceptible to natural diseases, called baculoviruses, which can be harnessed for the biological control of these pests.

Biopesticides based on these viruses are in use to control a number of major pests around the world, but at the moment they are not as effective as they could be because the virus is easily damaged by the UV in sunlight.

The project is led by Exosect Limited, a formulation technology company which specialises in the novel delivery of biological and synthetic active Ingredients, using its proprietary Lean Formulation Technology™, and will be carried out in collaboration with David Grzywacz of the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich.

With increasing public and government concern over the environmental impact of chemical pesticides, the search for alternatives has grown apace in the last decade. Insect baculoviruses have been successfully used to control a number of economically-important pests. But scientists now need to work out how to make them more effective in the field.

Professor Wilson said: “Biopesticides using baculovirus are much more environment-friendly than traditional chemicals because they are highly specific to just a few insect species, so have negligible negative impact on humans, livestock and beneficial insects, such as bees and other pollinators. Yet, despite their positive environmental attributes, the uptake by growers, whilst increasing, has remained somewhat limited because baculoviruses are not very resistant to ultra-violet radiation from sunlight.

The team intends to address this major challenge by protecting the baculovirus from UV using Exosect’s proprietary formulation platform, Entostat, which is an inert micro-powder based on natural and/or synthetic waxes which has electrostatic properties.

Professor Wilson added: “Although Entostat has been combined successfully with other chemical and biological pesticides, such as fungi and bacteria, our research project aims to demonstrate how we can apply Entostat formulation technology in a novel and exciting way to maximise its benefits to baculovirus biopesticides”