A major new European collaboration is looking at how spiders’ natural toxins can be used to sustainably safeguard crop protection.
The EcoStack project aims to develop and support ecologically, economically and socially sustainable crop production, by developing new resources to support agricultural biodiversity and existing ecosystem services.
The collaboration between Newcastle University and Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) will provide expertise in fermentation and downstream processing development focused on the production and formulation of biopesticides, based on natural toxins found in arthropod species, including those from spiders and insects.
Certain species of spiders and parasitic wasps, which play an important role in bio-control of crop pests, produce venoms that are toxic to a range of insect pests while being non-harmful to humans and other mammals.
These compounds are potent toxins when injected into pest insects by the spider or wasp, however, when orally ingested this toxicity is not observed, as the toxin cannot pass through the lining of the gut to their target site of action.
To address this, researchers at Newcastle University have combined these toxins with naturally occurring proteins, such as a lectin from the common snowdrop plant, which acts as a ‘carrier’, allowing them to pass through an insect’s gut and kill the pest.
Many current chemical pesticides are under increasing regulatory scrutiny due to the damaging environmental effects they can cause, but CPI say that use of natural biopesticides offers a more sustainable approach to crop protection by reducing chemical inputs.
CPI will produce these proteins at pilot-scale, via a yeast expression system.
The proteins will then be isolated and formulated to provide a substantial resource for the
agricultural field trials of the new biopesticide, which are set to begin in 2021.
CPI says the products created through this five-year international initiative, which is funded under the EU Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 initiative, will be less harmful and less costly, delivering benefits for farmers, biodiversity and wider society.