7 October 1999
Look to bugs as pesticides

IS BACTERIA agricultures great underexploited resource?

For while some are used as alternatives to pesticides, we know next to nothing about billions of others, reports Radio 4s Farming Today.

Dr Alan Morgan, bacteriologist at Horticultural Research International, told how bacteria are used to kill insect pests.

The bacteria produce protein, which is ingested by the insect. It then attacks the gut cells within the insect, sometimes killing it with in hours.

Bacteria have a very narrow host range, useful for killing a particular species, but having no effect on others.

This discriminating approach is useful in certain circumstances, but Dr Morgan said they cannot control all the insects on a plant, unlike pesticides.

Dr Morgan said fears about long-term safety of using bacteria to control pests are unfounded. He says they have been used for 60 years with little effect on anything else.