EU agriculture is facing an unparalleled threat by the pest Xylella fastidiosa, potentially causing an annual production loss of 5.5 billion euros and putting at risk 300.000 jobs if its expansion cannot be contained. Hence, the eradication of this bacterium remains a key priority of the EU. Yet, no field treatment is currently available, highlighting the dire need for effective pesticides against this menace.
At the same time the European Commission’s ambitious Green Deal and its Farm to Fork strategy set the reduction by 50% of the use of chemical pesticides by 2030 as a key priority. However, today, the availability of biological alternatives is limited and novel solutions targeting the most detrimental pests are urgently needed.
In light of these challenges, we propose the development of a novel, smart biopesticide based on bacterial spores (SMART-AGRI-SPORE), specifically targeting X. fastidiosa in infected trees and insect vectors.
Although the use of spores in medical applications is well established, here we extend the concept for the first time to an agricultural use by engineering spores as a biopesticide delivery vehicle.
To do so, Bacillus candidates will be isolated from orchards and vectors, while an activity screen will identify novel antimicrobial peptides efficiently targeting X. fastidiosa. Spores will be engineered to express and store these active agents in the core or coat, shielding them from physicochemical and biological degradation through the protective spore structure. Using an innovative design approach, the heterologous protein will be released into the environment during induced autolytic germination.
This study will provide novel insights into the treatment of X. fastidiosa under field conditions, while also extending our repertoire of alternative biopesticides for use in EU agriculture. In a wider context the project seeks to contribute to transforming EU agriculture into a modern, resource-efficient and resilient sector.
Fields of science
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