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Breeding Invertebrates for Next Generation BioControl (BINGO)

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - BINGO (Breeding Invertebrates for Next Generation BioControl (BINGO))

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

By 2050, the world population will have grown to around 9 billion people. Providing secure and sustainable food production is therefore a major challenge. However, food security is continuously under threat by invertebrate pests, destroying up to 20% of world food production. Chemical pesticides are still extensively used to protect food supplies, but their negative impact on food and environment resulted in regulations strictly limiting their use. Biocontrol, in which natural enemies are used to control pest populations, is a safe solution simultaneously addressing these two demands. Biocontrol often involves importing non-native natural enemies. While very successful, this practice is restricted as it goes against international protocols for protecting biological resources and may have negative side-effects on the indigenous flora and fauna. To reduce this dependency on imported natural enemies, BINGO researchers aimed at optimizing biocontrol with existing and native natural enemies using in-depth knowledge of genetics.

BINGO advanced current knowledge in biocontrol through the use of genetic variation and by simultaneously trained 13 young researchers (ESRs) in an extensive suite of interdisciplinary skills. This allowed them to tackle the challenges of improving the efficiency of biocontrol by selective breeding of natural enemies in a broad range of agricultural systems and environments. The 13 research projects addressed current bottlenecks in biocontrol, for rearing, monitoring, and performance, and the application of state-of-the-art genomics. The industry had a pivotal role in BINGO by providing the problems for research, training, and by translating the results to increased competitiveness.

BINGO researchers generated knowledge on the use of genetics in biocontrol and delivered most notably genomic resources for biocontrol agents, genetic and ecological monitoring tools, a general modeling framework for the improvement of biocontrol agents, information on the genetics underlying important biocontrol traits, and genomic selection protocols. Delivering biocontrol agents improved for performance traits proved to be more challenging than anticipated, but the knowledge generated in this process serves as a starting point for new projects. In general, the BINGO collaboration has been a fruitful partnership for ESRs and senior scientists alike. BINGO has generated many new ideas and has firmly put the use of genetic variation in biocontrol on the agenda of industry and science. We are proud of our lasting collaborations on which future research initiatives will be built.
BINGO trained young scientists in a broad set of skills enabling them to start their careers as confident, independent-thinking researchers, who can face the challenges of improving biocontrol using genetic knowledge. The BINGO Summer Schools and courses formed the basis for their research and allowed ESRs to develop professional skills. In BINGO’s high-quality scientific environment, they could share results, receive and provide critical feedback and ideas to further improve their research projects. The composition of BINGO ensured all researchers were into contact with biocontrol companies and experienced entrepreneurship, next to the academic and institutional cultures at their hosts. The BINGO training provided ESRs with all skills necessary to enter the job-market as well-balanced researchers.

Next to the training, ESRs produced high-quality scientific results moving the biocontrol field forward. Structured along the main challenges in current biocontrol, ESRs worked on rearing and storage, monitoring, performance, and explored genomic approaches. ESRs delivered valuable genetic resources for biocontrol agents, including four natural enemy genomes. These were instrumental in developing monitoring tools and methodology, such as neutral markers to assess the impact of biocontrol agents on local biodiversity. To improve rearing and storage, the effects of probiotics on artificial diets for mass-rearing were explored, as well as the genetic basis of reproductive dormancy, allowing for better natural enemy deployment. A key issue in improving biocontrol agents is the choice of target traits. BINGO researchers have developed a general modeling framework facilitating this choice based on economic prospects. Across several projects, ESRs worked at optimizing biocontrol agents or factitious hosts and delivered valuable insights into the biology and genetic basis of traits such as drought resistance, host plant exudate tolerance, diet choice, and wing morphology. While several projects tried to improve these traits by selective breeding, this proved a challenging task to complete within a three-year research project. Nevertheless, the information collected on the biology, and the proof-of-principle of genomic selection in a natural enemy, will be a starting point for new projects.

Important for the impact of the results and for the ESRs’ careers, results were published in high-quality scientific journals. To reach a wider audience, BINGO disseminated its results through its newsletter and updates on social media, which were followed by scientists and professionals. BINGO aimed at reaching the next-generation, by developing a high-school teaching module on biocontrol and genetics. BINGO produced eight peer-reviewed publications, four are in review, and more than seven are in preparation. These include a review paper on the need for genomic approaches in biocontrol, contributions to a special BINGO issue of the journal Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata for June 2019, and a position paper on the use of genetics in biocontrol. We evaluated our results for IPR, but they did not appear suitable for patenting.
BINGO delivered genomic resources, knowledge on the genetics of traits related to biocontrol agents’ performance, genetic markers for monitoring and risk assessment, and guidelines and protocols for genetic improvement of natural enemies. By creating knowledge and developing new techniques for rearing and breeding of biocontrol agents, BINGO moved beyond the current state-of-art. Results were published in scientific journals and disseminated to a wider scientific and professional audience in BINGO Workshops and other meetings. We have seen a raised interest in the topic, with several companies requesting to join future follow-up incentives. As such, we not only created lasting collaborations within BINGO but also given the use of genetic variation in biocontrol new impetus beyond the network. We expect the impact to grow further, as more publications are released, in particular because many BINGO ESRs are still completing their PhD theses. As ESRs finish their projects and move upwards on the career ladder, their strong connection with their fellow ESRs and the BINGO network will be the foundation from which to spread the BINGO knowledge and ideas. We are confident that the impact of the science, the training, and the entrepreneurial environment within BINGO will continue to help to drive the ESRs’ future careers and the science and use of biocontrol. This is essential to reduce, and ultimately abolish, the use of harmful chemicals in safe and secure food production.