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Biocontrol of Xylella and its vector in olive trees for integrated pest management

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BIOVEXO (Biocontrol of Xylella and its vector in olive trees for integrated pest management)

Reporting period: 2020-05-01 to 2021-04-30

Xylella fastidiosa is a pathogenic bacterium being transmitted by xylem-feeding insects with mainly spittlebugs Philaenus spumarius in the Mediterranean region. It causes diseases on olive, other fruit trees, and various other crops as well as being present in different host plants. Since 2013 and the first detection of Xylella in Apulia, Xylella infestation has severely damaged olive trees in Spain and Italy, in addition to almonds in Spain. In Apulia, olive production has already collapsed by 65-80%. Circa 100,000 jobs have been already lost including jobs in farms and suppliers. Yield losses of 35-70% in olive harvests are projected by EFSA in case of Xylella getting established in all olive regions in Europe.

No biopesticides are currently registered against Xylella and farmers in many cases must destroy infected plants. There is the risk of abandoning farms and olive plantations that are of high societal and cultural heritage value.

To fight against Xylella BIOVEXO aims to develop the use of Xylella-targeting biopesticides (X-biopesticides) with biopesticides combatting the insect vectors (V-biopesticides). BIOVEXO aims to make them available for ready use in integrated pest management and that they are close to market after project end.

The main objectives of developing new biopesticides are related to i) the reduction of Xylella pressure and disease severity in olive cultivation, while also protecting the environment, ii) the protection and safeguard long-established olive orchards as traditional landscape elements and cultural heritage, iii) the prevention of Xylella infections in new olive plantations, iv) the security and sustainability of jobs in disease-affected areas and the continuity of olive and almond cultivation.
Since the beginning of the project, the production of several X- and V- biopesticides has been optimised using different industrially relevant technologies, media ingredients, fermentation, purification, and sustainable feedstocks. Optimal dose rates and prototype formulations have further been selected. In parallel, the best application methods for Xylella prevention and curative approach have been moreover selected for each biopesticide, with field tests in Apulia and Mallorca and with tests on either insects or plants.

Four X-Biopesticides were evaluated and compared to the state-of-the-art of all biopesticides tested before from different consortiums. Their production and purification have been optimised and satisfactory results have been achieved. Cost-efficient products and a high number of active substances of X-Biopesticides were obtained. The compatibility of each X-Biopesticide with different adjuvants enabling better application of the products in the fields was studied. Best application methods (foliar spray and irrigation) were determined for each solution and tests were carried out in olive orchards in Mallorca and Apulia with ongoing results.

Four novel V-biopesticides were further included in BIOVEXO and an up-to-date overview of consortium external solutions against P. spumarius was generated. Lab tests have been carried out with the various V-biopesticides, all of which showed an effect.

Formulation and upscaling of production of each X- or V- biopesticides have been optimised. First prototypes have been obtained with a basic composition and some co-formulations were done for some biopesticides. Industries have conditioned bioreactors to produce 5-2000L of biopesticides.

Parts of a mode of action of each biopesticide have been additionally studied. The study of transcriptome of plant defense reaction after application of X- and V-biopesticides with or without Xylella on olive plants growing under greenhouse conditions has started.

Risk, toxicity, and pathogenicity assessment of each biopesticide product are further ongoing as well as economic sustainability and environmental impacts of novel biopesticides supported by the life cycle assessment are evaluated for each product.
BIOVEXO progress beyond the state of the art and develops innovative approach using plant-colonising (systemic) microorganisms and plant by-product that may also reach inner plant tissues to directly counteract Xylella as well as innovative, biobased vector-targeting control products involving microbial strains, plant extracts and microbial metabolites that are tested in different soil, climate and cultivation conditions. These biopesticides are developed for best application, with suitable formulation, efficacy, and adequate uses of feedstock resources to develop sustainable and control solutions with entry to the market shortly after the end of the project.

Period 1 Impacts
Reduce the environmental footprint associated with agricultural activities as compared with existing alternative approaches & increase the overall resource efficiency
During Period 1, we optimised and developed new X- and V-Biopesticides based on plant extracts or microorganisms. These biopesticides are still under development in BIOVEXO and will be close to market entry at the end of BIOVEXO. They will be solutions for a sustainable approach, will preserve diversity and will involve circular economy principles.

Increase crop yield by at least 10% as compared with existing cultivation cases based on chemical inputs
The X- and V-biopesticides are still under development in BIOVEXO. We aim, however, to restore and safeguard olive trees in different pedo-climatic conditions (Apulia, Mallorca) as well as almonds trees (mainland in Spain) with curative and preventive approaches.

Reduce costs of crop (nutrition and) control by 15% as compared with benchmark chemical approaches
The X- and V-biopesticides are still under development since Period 1, but the aim is to reduce costs of crop control.

Increase income and business opportunities for stakeholders and actors in the bio-based sectors, in particular in the primary sectors
In Period 1, different solutions have been tested for preventive and curative approaches, which will lead in next years to provide business opportunities for industries and partners of the project as well as protect olive trees and thus primary sector.

Create new job opportunities in the bio-based sector, particularly the rural areas
BIOVEXO aims to create new job opportunities, especially in the rural areas by protecting olive and almond trees as well as by increasing job opportunities in the industrial sector. In Period 1, the biopesticides are still under development. The goal will be achieved at the end of the project or soon after when pesticides will be on the market.
25 years old olive trees used in preventive treatments in Apulia (Cellina di Nardo orchard)
Experimental trials for the “curative” treatments. 8 (a) and 20 (b and c) years old trees in Apulia
BIOVEXO hands-on Field Trials investigating young olive tree in field trial in Mallorca