Scientists Say Modified Bacteria Could Protect Crops and Replace Pesticides

“Beneficial bacteria such as burkholderia that have co-evolved naturally with plants, have a key role to play in a sustainable future,” said Professor Eshwar Mahenthiralingam, lead researcher of the study published in Nature Microbiology.

Modern agriculture relies on regular spraying with pesticides to keep insects and fungal disease at bay.
Beneficial bacteria that co-evolved with plants, have key role to play in sustainable future, researchers say

Bacteria could help protect crops without man-made pesticides, according to a study which used vaccine manufacturing techniques to make the microbes safe to humans while retaining their anti-microbial properties.

UK researchers were able to remove the risk of lung infections from a modified form of the bacteria while still allowing it to prevent “damping off” a disease which kills off seeds and seedlings.

 With further improvements and tests in humans, the Cardiff University-led researchers said they hope their discovery could make food production “safer, more sustainable, and toxin-free.”
 Their work focused on a species burkholderia bacteria, a group which produce an array of compounds that can fight off fungus, amoebae and other bacteria species that can cause crop diseases.
 “Beneficial bacteria such as burkholderia that have co-evolved naturally with plants, have a key role to play in a sustainable future,” said Professor Eshwar Mahenthiralingam, lead researcher of the study published in Nature Microbiology. He also added that “we have to understand the risks, mitigate against them and seek a balance that works for all.”

Up until 1999 these species and other biopesticides were widely used, but then increasing recognition of the risks of serious infections in people with cystic fibrosis led to a moratorium on their use.

Leading environmental chemists recently warned humanity is producing new chemicals faster than it can predict their harms with many lasting a long time in the environment.

Beneficial bacteria that co-evolved with plants, have key role to play in sustainable future, researchers say.

UK researchers were able to remove the risk of lung infections from a modified form of the bacteria while still allowing it to prevent “damping off” a disease which kills off seeds and seedlings.

 With further improvements and tests in humans, the Cardiff University-led researchers said they hope their discovery could make food production “safer, more sustainable, and toxin-free.”
 Their work focused on a species burkholderia bacteria, a group which produce an array of compounds that can fight off fungus, amoebae and other bacteria species that can cause crop diseases.

We have to understand the risks, mitigate against them and seek a balance that works for all.”

Professor Mahenthiralingam, has studied burkholderia bacteria in cystic fibrosis for many years and the research led to two new human antibiotics , Cepacin A and B. But he and his team are now working to see if Cepacin would be effective in crop pests as well. Using genomic sequencing of the bacterial DNA the researchers could identify the genes for burkholderia to manufacture Cepacin.

Burkholderia split their genomic DNA across 3 fragments, called replicons,” said Professor Mahenthiralingam.

“We removed the smallest of these 3 replicons to create a mutant Burkholderia strain which, when tested on germinating peas, still demonstrated excellent biopesticidal properties.

Tests in mice susceptible to lung infections, intended to mimic the regular infections faced by people with cystic fibrosis found the mutant strain also did not cause them harm.

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