Novel delivery of phytochemicals for sustainable crop protection

Lead Research Organisation: Keele University
Department Name: Faculty of Natural Sciences

Abstract

New solutions for managing insect pests are urgently needed due to evolution of resistance to current insecticides. Insect pests cause annual losses of US$17.7 billion to the Brazilian economy. Our project focuses on development and bioactivity testing of nanotech and metallic coordination complexes as novel delivery mechanisms for bioactive phytochemcials, to provide new options for crop protection. By using defensive non-host phytochemicals, outside the metabolome of inbred crops, we can deliver phytochemcials that crop pests have not evolved with. UK-Brazil collaboration provides an ideal opportunity to share expertise and strengthen this new and promising area of research.

The Stage 1 (pump-priming) project has successfully shown that nanoformulation and complexing of phytochemicals can solve low solubility issues, improve longevity of release and alleviate phytotoxicity; three major issues that have impeded the development of botanical insecticides to date. Furthermore, our early (proof of concept) phytochemical treatments have good efficacy, causing > 80% mortality of four major insecticide resistant pest species that are plaguing Brazilian agriculture (whitefly, Bemisia tabaci; fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda; Western flower thrips, Frankliniella occidentalis, and peach-potato aphid, Myzus persicae). Treatments were also shown to strongly and significantly inhibit aphid reproduction (near complete shutdown) and had highly significant repellent activity. Stage 1 established a new collaboration between Biologists at Keele University (UK) and Chemists at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar, Brazil), which was further strengthened by inclusion of crop protection expertise at São Paulo State University (UNESP, Brazil). The project has benefited from Keele Nanoceutics expertise, allowing low cost nanotech technologies from medical research to be translated into the agricultural field. Investment in Stage 1 has thus provided a solid foundation for future research.

The Stage 2 project will use the collaboration established in Stage 1 to move towards generating new commercially viable phytochemical treatments. Workshops and exchange visits will be held to allow research groups to share expertise and work together. We have three workshops planned: UNESP (June 2019), Keele (Jan 2020) and UFSCar (Jan 2021). Experimental work will focus on three main areas: 1) Development and optimisation of phytochemical delivery using nanoformulation and complexing techniques. Treatments will be scaled up from leaf discs to whole plants with detailed investigation of two promising routes for application: sprayable formulations and systemic uptake via root drench treatments. 2) Testing bioactivity of formulations against economically important Brazilian crop pest targets. Antibiotic, antifeedant and repellent activity will be tested for using established methods we have developed for the four species. 3) Environmental and target specificity assessment. Most of the phytochemicals and formulations we are testing are already widely used as food ingredients, in medicine or in aromatherapy. However, we will obtain evidence in order to make the case for subsequent commercialisation of treatments. Breakdown of new biodegradable formulations will be measured. Non-target effects will be assessed with mammalian cell lines, an egg parasitoid wasp Trichogramma pretiosum (a beneficial natural enemy), and the honeybee, Apis mellifera.

We have shown cross-fertilisation between the disciplines involved in the project, allowing Agriculture to advance by using approaches already developed in Chemistry and Medicine. Our hypothesis is that our novel formulations could provide a means to "outsource", for crop protection, defensive phytochemicals from plants that crop pests have not evolved with and therefore are susceptible to. The Stage 2 project has considerable potential to generate much needed new tools for managing crop pests.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit from this research?

The research would benefit the farmers and the farming industry by developing new tools for managing pests. Currently, crop protection products are being lost to resistance or changes in legislation at a far faster rate than new treatments are being developed. This means that farmers urgently need new solutions. Insect pests cause annual losses of US$17.7 billion to the Brazilian economy with average annual losses estimated at 7.7% of total crop production. The insect species focussed on by the project (Western flower thrips, peach-potato aphid, silverleaf whitefly and fall armyworm) are chosen due to their relevance to Brazilian agriculture and insecticide resistance challenges.

How might they benefit from this research?

The pump-priming project is designed to meet a real need for innovation in crop protection by exploring how nanotechnology may enhance the bioactivity of plant secondary metabolites. We envisage that the project will make an excellent contribution to the development of new approaches for crop protection that are based on plant secondary metabolites delivered through novel nanotech formulations. The farmers would obtain the new tools and there would be a business opportunity for agricultural companies interested in manufacturing the new products.

Although it is a relatively small pump-priming project, it will address a generic challenge in agriculture: crop varieties that were bred for yield and taste often lack the secondary metabolites wild plants use for protection against pests or diseases. By providing a mechanism for delivering bioactive plant secondary metabolites, in a controlled way, the project would help to reduce the vulnerability of crops to attacking pests.

Publications

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Bruce T (2019) Editorial in Physiological Entomology

 
Description We are testing novel nanoformulations of plant chemicals for their activity against major crop pest species. At Keele we are focussing on aphid and thrips while parallel research in Brazil is testing activity against fall armyworm and whitefly pests. We have run a large programme of bioassays of phytochemical testing for their activity against the notorious aphid pest species, Myzus persicae. This has allowed us to identify the most promising treatments which significantly reduce aphid survival and have a large effect as inhibitors of reproduction.
Exploitation Route Any treatment which stops the reproduction of an insecticide resistant pest would be valuable. The aphid is a particularly troublesome pest and its high reproductive rate is one of the main reasons why it is a pest. Therefore, there is considerable commercial potential with the treatments but it is still early days. We have planned further testing to scale up to whole plants and then whole field experiments will be needed.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Creative Economy,Environment,Healthcare,Security and Diplomacy

 
Description We are exploring if our formulations have commercial potential as crop protection treatments. Because of this we may have to hold back on publications in case anything is patented
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description COMMONS SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE - Secured New Government inquiry into "the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity"
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Successfully securing this inquiry will have an impact in raising awareness and improving political will to use science and technology to address challenges to food security and biodiversity. Agriculture has been neglected since the last Green Revolution in the 1960s and 21st Century challenges need to be taken more seriously. The Commons STC is a high level committee overseeing delivery of science across all government departments. While the inquiry has not yet been launched, I am confident that it will make a difference to the areas highlighted above. Here is our University press release, which has more details: "Professor Toby Bruce has secured a full Government inquiry into the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity, following his successful pitch to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in January. Professor Bruce's pitch was one of just four chosen to be taken forward as a full Government inquiry. The committee has combined Professor Bruce's recommendations on food security and crop protection with a related topic on gene editing techniques from Nicola Patron of the Earlham Institute. A report published this week by the Science and Technology Committee said: "Professor Toby Bruce suggested that we should hold an inquiry into food security, the environment and crop protection. He suggested that an inquiry could look at the tools available to farmers to protect crops against pests, weeds and diseases, how these had changed over time, what changes were needed to ensure food security in the future and research investment in crop protection. We will incorporate this into an inquiry into the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity." Professor Bruce said: "I am delighted that 'My Science Inquiry' is being taken forward to a full inquiry and look forward to working with the Commons Science and Technology Committee. There is an urgent need for increased research and innovation to help improve food security and protect the environment. I hope that the forthcoming inquiry will be a catalyst for change and will help to address some serious limitations that currently impede our innovation system, particularly with respect to providing new options for protecting harvests from pests". During the presentation of his research, Professor Bruce said: "The choice we have at the moment is having to choose between food security and the environment, so we need to find a way forward in which we can safeguard our crops without environmental impact, partly through smarter regulation to bring more inventions into the market. There is a critical shortage of new treatments but there's also underinvestment in this area. It's a major challenge that we face this century, how do we feed the world without wrecking the environment in the process." The Commons Science and Technology Committee will launch their inquiry into the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity within the next 12 months."
URL http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/science-and-technology-co...
 
Description Novel botanical formulations for treatment of virus vectors
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Funding ID GCRF Connected Virus network (pump-priming awards) 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2019 
End 03/2020
 
Title Development of assay for thrips toxicity under ventilated conditions 
Description A method to assess toxicity of formulations to thrips whilst also allowing ventilation to prevent fumigant effects. 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This method allowed assessment of insecticidal activity of formulations under more realistic conditions than previously. 
 
Title Development of phytotoxicity assay 
Description Development of a seed germination assay to measure phytotoxicity of formulations 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The method allowed assessment of possible phytotoxicity arising from use of formulations. 
 
Description Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), Brazil 
Organisation Federal University of Sao Carlos
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provision of test material for testing against insect pests as novel control treatments and bioassay against selected insects.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of test material for testing against insect pests as novel control treatments and bioassay against selected insects.
Impact Stage 2 BBSRC Newton Fund award
Start Year 2018
 
Description Novel botanical formulations for treatment of virus vectors 
Organisation International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
Country Nigeria 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Exploration of whether the nanoformulations we are developing work against whitefly, aphid and spider mite pests in Africa
Collaborator Contribution Collaboration facilitated by CONNECTED Virus GCRF network
Impact There are some promising preliminary results: a nano formulation of one of the essential oils substantially reduced spider mite egg laying and increased mortality.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Sao Paulo State University (Brazil) 
Organisation Sao Paulo State University
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provision of test material for testing against insect pests as novel control treatments and bioassay of selected insects
Collaborator Contribution Provision of test material for testing against insect pests as novel control treatments and bioassay of selected insects
Impact Stage 2 BBSRC Newton Fund award
Start Year 2018
 
Description Biopesticide Summit, Swansea, 2-3 July 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Gave a keynote, invited talk: "The role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://biopesticidesummit.com
 
Description Departmental seminar, School of Life Sciences, Keele University, 21st March, 2019. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A departmental seminar on techniques in chemical ecology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited Seminar at Newcastle University (3 April 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited Seminar at Newcastle University
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited Seminar at University of Warwick (2 May 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited Seminar at University of Warwick (2 May 2019)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Postgraduate short course on plant protection (Brazil) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A 3 day postgraduate short course on Plant Protection at UNESP, Brazil, February 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation to International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 2nd October 2019. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A presentation to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 2nd October 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Workshop on Chemical Ecology (Dar es Salaam) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A workshop on Chemical Ecology at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, on 27th September 2019. For postgraduates, undergraduates and members of staff.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Workshop on Chemical Ecology, Universidade de Espirito Santo, Brazil. 7th January 2020. In Portuguese. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Workshop on Chemical Ecology at the Biotechnology department of the Universidade de Espirito Santo, Brazil. 7th January 2020. In Portuguese.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020