Globally, invertebrate pests (e.g. insects, mites, nematodes) cause hundreds of billions of pounds worth of damage to arable crops and forests every year, impacting on global food security. In addition, some invertebrates such as ticks, mosquitoes, midges and sandflies are vectors of diseases which pose a risk to human and animal health.
This will only get worse with climate change and resistance to existing pesticides. With increased restrictions on chemical pesticides due to their effect on the environment, biopesticides (naturally occurring substances that control pests) have emerged as a viable alternative but need testing and registration with regulatory authorities.
Research conducted by Professor Tariq Butt and his team discovered that the fungus Metarhizium brunneum is an effective biocontrol agent against major plant pests such as thrips and weevils. Through extensive laboratory toxicity testing and fieldwork with industrial and academic partners they found that Metarhizium and its metabolites do not persist in the soil. Furthermore, the metabolites are produced in extremely low amounts and are unlikely to enter the food chain, making the fungus safe to use on crops. Professor Butt and his team discovered that volatile metabolites of M. brunneum conferred benefits to the plant such as repelling or killing soil invertebrate pests such plant parasitic nematode and molluscs. Together with industry these volatiles are being developed as new plant protection products.
Products in development include entomopathogenic fungi such as Metarhizium brunneum, botanicals and semiochemicals. Botanicals with attractant, repellent or insecticidal properties are used in conjunction with the fungi to create innovative pest control strategies which will "lure and kill", “stress and kill” or "confuse and kill" the targeted insect.
The team also focus on a range of Natural Products exploiting agents or their by-products for use in disparate biotechnologies that contribute to protecting the environment and the generation of new therapeutics for healthcare.
Prof Butt’s research has informed the regulatory authorities on the safety of Metarhizium fungal metabolites and paved the way for the registration of M. brunneum.
Intellectual Property has been licensed to industry and knowledge has been exchanged between a wide range of organisations including Rentokil Initial plc, Russell IPM Ltd, Agrifutur srl, Certis-Belchim, BioBest Group NV and Lallemand Inc. Products such as Met52 and GranMet have been commercially formulated from M. brunnuem and sold in Europe. In addition, Prof Butt’s research is being used by international companies such as Certis BV to formulate new next-generation biorational fumigants based on natural products. These will replace current chemical pesticides which have been or are being withdrawn from the market. He continues to work with European partners on reducing the regulatory burden around metabolites, and with industrial partners to discover and test new biocontrol agents and develop innovative pest control strategies.
Recognised as a world leader in Biocontrol and Natural Products, Professor Tariq Butt and the team have gone on to secure funding through the Community Renewal Fund in partnership with Swansea Council for the Natural Products BioHub, a unique multi-use BioHUB supporting researchers and businesses specialising in Biocontrol and Natural products. The BioHub provides business incubation (business support, networking, staff training and knowledge transfer), Trial Sites (Access to glasshouse/polytunnels and high throughput screening), R&D Facilities (Access to laboratories & expertise at Swansea University) an Insectarium (Dedicated facility to rear insects for R&D trials, exhibitions), an Accelerator (Scale up facilities and R&D support for growing businesses) and a Natural Products Library (UK’s first facility supporting screening & product development).