Biotechnological approaches to the study and development of entomopathogenic fungi have advanced the field in recent years. Improvements in formulations allowing new biopesticides to succeed in unexpected conditions (such as locust control in Africa), strain selection, and identification have advanced not only biopesticide formulation, but understanding of disease processes and ecology. More specific identification systems have allowed better monitoring of biopesticide applications as well as development of phylogenetic classification. Despite some success, commercial use of entomopathogenic fungi is restricted by high cost, inadequate or inconsistent efficacy, limited mass production capability, and poor shelf life. However, entomopathogenic fungi have several advantages over other microbes for formulation in biopesticides as many species have a robust spore stage, capable of survival in products for many months or years. Some are easy to grow on simple media and can be formulated using a number of simple procedures. They can often kill more than one target pest, although limited in host range enough for registration purposes. With continuing improvements in formulation and application technology, it is likely that many more niche biopesticides will come to market, especially with the increased markets due to a rise in organic production and the reduction in the number of chemical pesticides available.
There are a number of new techniques and applications that will aid in the further development of entomopathogenic fungi. Application of molecular biological techniques to entomopathogenic fungi also holds the promise of strain improvement through genetic manipulation, or assist in strain improvement without genetic modification. For example, through techniques such as protoplast fusion and chromosome exchange, using knowledge of desired chromosomal gene location, may enable superior strain qualities to be combined in single isolates. Determining the underlying genetics of host specificity, the toxins and enzymes involved in the disease process, and genetics of fungal processes such as sporulation and germination are all under study around the world. Advances in these areas may allow greater use to be made of entomopathogenic fungi.
The potential of entomopathogenic fungi lies not just in their application as biopesticides based on the live fungus, but also in the isolation and development of bioactives from these fungi. Toxins, enzymes, and antibiotics are all produced by entomopathogenic fungi and, as techniques for their isolation and expression increase, the potential for exploiting bioactives is enhanced. In some cases these bioactives are not toxins, but may exert other useful effects, such as antifeeding activity. There is also potential in novel strategies for biopesticide use such as mixtures of behaviour-modifying chemicals for enhancing control of social insects with pathogens.
While the history of biopesticide development from entomopathogenic fungi is littered with more failures than success, the future seems brighter. As the knowledge from several commercially successful products and new technologies are applied to biopesticide development, we can expect to see more novel biocontrol methods applied to insect pests in the future using fungal species.
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