Feeding seven billion hungry humans is no easy task – especially when crop-killing insects are competing for first dibs on agriculture. Deadly chemical pesticides have been the go-to fix for the conventional agricultural industry, but new research suggests that biopesticides made from fungi, insects, or other plants could be a safer, more planet-friendly alternative. One particular variety of biopesticide, a mushroom derivative called “Green Muscle”, has been used to ward off locust invasions in Africa, preventing famine for thousands.
Crops photo from Shutterstock
The development of biopesticides is yet another form of biomimicry – the practice of emulating nature’s solutions to complex biological problems. Many plants have developed unique defense mechanisms for preventing pest attacks, and as FastCo Exist points out, biopesticides attempt to redirect the sophisticated strategies species have evolved over millions of years to protect crops in the field.
Green Muscle is made by suspending spores of the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae suspended in mineral oils. When a pest, such as the locust, start munching on the treated crops, the fungi turn the tables. After ingestion, the fungi grow inside the locust, producing a toxin that saps their strength, making them easy prey for birds and lizards.
Although most biopesticides are only slightly more expensive than their chemical counterparts, any price increase is likely to be avoided by cash-strapped farmers. Encouragingly, the US Department of Agriculture is working on a new cost-cutting approach to formulating pest-killing fungi. The approach, dubbed “liquid culture fermentation,” offers several benefits, including lower material costs and increased yields of certain forms of insect-killing fungi, including Isaria or Metarhizium. The fermentation can use less expensive sources such as soybean flour or cottonseed meal at 30 to 50 cents a pound to produce the fungus, explains FastCo Exist.
This development is promising, since safety so often takes a backseat to profit margins in the world of commercial agriculture. Although biopesticides have been around for nearly a decade, researchers say that reducing their cost is the key to widespread adoption.
Via FastCo Exist