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Enhancement and Exploitation of Soil Biocontrol Agents for Bio-Constraint Management in Crops

Final Report Summary - 2E-BCAS IN CROPS (Enhancement and Exploitation of Soil Biocontrol Agents for Bio-Constraint Management in Crops)

The overall objective of the project was the enhancement of the performance of biocontrol agents to offer a reliable alternative to chemical control of plant diseases and weeds. The public opinion, even if open to organic farming practices and desires healthy and safe methods for food production, may be worried about the risk of the release in the environment of microbes that could have side environmental effects on non target organisms. An important part of the project was dedicated to develop methodologies for the assessment of the environmental impact of biocontrol agents, by producing specific primers to recognise them after the release into the soil, constructing methods for labelling biocontrol agents for tracking their movement, assessing the impact on microbial populations of biocontrol agents introduced into soil, and by designing methods for containment and mitigation.

Commercialisation of biocontrol agents has been slow due to the lack of consistency and efficacy of the microroganisms used. An important part of the project has been devoted to the synergistic integrated use of more than one microorganism, or their integration with microbial bioactive metabolites. This part of the project has supplied innovative data on: the production of mixtures of cell-wall degrading enzymes by Trichoderma strains optimised for synergistic antimicrobial activity in combination with living biocontrol agents and chemical fungicides; the determination of the compatibility of two major biocontrol agents for control of Sclerotinia in lettuce and protocols for joint application; the ecological fitness and biocontrol efficacy of wild strains of biocontrol agents resistant to inhibitory metabolites produced by other biocontrol agents.

Companies, local authorities, end-users require consistent efficacy of products when they are used, and the endpoint of the project was to help in producing effective biocontrol agents. A whole package has been devoted to the assessment of the field efficacy, evaluating the best methods of application to experimental fields in different environmental conditions. The methodologies and the knowledge developed during the project could be easily adapted to other needs, further widening the public and the scientific interest. Considering that the agents studied in the project could potentially be applied on several other crops with respect to those considered into the project, the supplying of microbes to other vegetable's growers could enlarge the information on the efficacy of biocontrol agent treatments, and would wider the consumers' audience and their confidence in strategies of microbial biocontrol.