“Biological control should be the main strategy in plant health”

Dr. Inmaculada Garrido Jurado will be a speaker at the First Microbiome Forum, where she will explain her knowledge about the new modes of action of entomopathogenic fungi.

She is an Agronomist Doctor and Assistant Professor of the ETSIAM of the University of Córdoba. He belongs to the Research Group AGR163 “Agricultural Entomology” since 2005. His main lines of research are “Agricultural Entomology” and “Microbial Control of pests with emphasis on the use of entomopathogenic fungi and their insecticidal proteins”. He answers questions of interest that will be discussed in the First Microbiome Forum.

What do you think of MICROBIOMA? Do you think that a Forum of this kind is necessary to shed light on the sector?

MicroBioma is a forum for debate on the use and application of soil microorganisms whose conclusion becomes necessary after the entry into force of Royal Decree 999/2017 on fertilizer products. MicroBioma must be an unmissable event for both researchers and professionals in the sector. This event offers the opportunity to exchange views between scientists and professionals, something that is not always possible, and encourages collaboration between both strengthening innovation in obtaining new products.

When did you discover your vocation for entomology? How has applied entomology evolved, its knowledge and its practical application in pest control since then?

Insects and their communities have always been fascinating to me, but my attention was focused on the control of pests after studying several subjects that the Chair of Agricultural Entomology of the University of Córdoba taught in the career of Agronomist Engineer. I joined this Chair for the completion of the Final Career Work and I have been there for almost 15 years. The control of pests with microorganisms has evolved remarkably in recent years, particularly that related to entomopathogenic fungi. It is noteworthy the new ecological functions that have recently been described as endophytic microorganisms, plant growth promoters, competent in the rhizosphere or antagonists of plant pathogens. Some of these functions were totally unknown when I began my scientific career.

“The control of pests with microorganisms has evolved remarkably in recent years, particularly that related to entomopathogenic fungi”

One of his most outstanding research focuses on the control of the olive fly by entomopathogenic fungi. How far did the study go and what are the most relevant applications?

The olive fly Bactrocera oleae Rossi attacks the harvestable part of the olive tree and is responsible for 30-40% of the losses in the total olive production in the Mediterranean region, there is even news of losses caused by B. oleae of 100% of some table varieties and up to 80% of oil varieties. In addition, it is considered the main biotic factor that reduces the quality of the oil by increasing its acidity. The Research Group AGR163 “Agricultural Entomology” to which I belong, has been developing for more than 10 years an effective entomopathogenic fungi application strategy, economically viable, and respectful with the environment for the control of this insect when it is in the soil. With the application of these in the soil under the tree canopy only once a year, we have achieved a 50-70% reduction in the population density of the emerging fly of the treated soil. So far, this application strategy has received three awards: III Castillo de Canena Prize for Olive Research “Luis Vañó” (2016), Special Mention of the Baena Denomination of Origin Regulatory Council and I INNOVAGRO Award for Innovation in Agriculture 2016 in the Technological Innovation category. Currently we are at a key moment, the transition from academia to business. INNOLIVAR, project of Public Purchase of Innovation in its modality of Precommercial Public Purchase of the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities and the University of Córdoba, co-financed by 80% by FEDER funds, within the Operational Program Pluriregional de España 2014-2020, is allowing this transit to the bidding companies to optimize the formulation of the entomopathogenic fungus for the commercialization of this.

Biological control by means of entomopathogenic fungi emerges today as the great alternative to chemical insecticides. What are the benefits based on?

Entomopathogenic fungi, as microbial control agents, are unique and relevant because they invade their hosts directly through the integument without the need to be ingested, a fact that acquires special importance in the control of insects found in cryptic environments where they can not access other microorganisms. To this it is added that its mass production is relatively easy, as well as its application in the field. In addition, the new ecological functions as endophytes or competent in the rhizosphere open a new horizon in plant health by protecting the plant from insects and diseases.

How do you see the biological struggle in plant health? What projects are being carried out in your Center?

Biological control, both in the face of macrobial control with the use of parasitoids and predators and microbial with entomopathogenic microorganisms, should constitute the main strategy in plant health, for being respectful with the environment and human and animal health. In the Higher Technical School of Agricultural and Forestry Engineers of the University of Córdoba there are several research groups working in this regard in different aspects of plant health. Among them are the groups AGR163 “Agricultural Entomology” and RNM-322 “Biological bases for the knowledge, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity” for the control of agricultural and forest pests and AGR-216 “Agroforestry pathology” in the control of diseases .

“Biological control should be the main strategy in plant health, for being respectful of the environment and human and animal health”

In his presentation he will illustrate us about “new modes of action of entomopathogenic fungi. What will the attendees be able to discover in their talk?

In the presentation you will have the opportunity to see how the mode of action of the entomopathogenic fungi that we have all studied has been modified in recent years, with new and surprising strategies to kill insects. In addition, you can see how entomopathogenic fungi are not just entomopathogens.

And the most important challenges of biological control of pests for the future?

The main challenge of biological control of pests is probably the reduction of lethal times. It is true that some microorganisms or their products can get mortalities in hours, but in general several days are necessary, which means that for certain pests they are not totally adequate. On the other hand, it is necessary to establish precise protocols to determine the effects on terrestrial and aquatic auxiliary fauna and the production of compounds that compromise food security.

“The main challenge of the biological control of plagues is probably the reduction of lethal times”

What would you advise young people who are starting their careers in applied entomology and biological pest control?

My advice is transversal to any area of ​​knowledge, for me the most important characteristic for a scientist is the vocation. Astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin guides us to perfection with the following words: “Do not embark on a scientific career in search of fame or money. Start a scientific career only if there is nothing else that satisfies you; because that’s probably the only thing you will receive. Your reward will be to expand the horizon as you go up. And if you get that reward you will not want another.”