BIOVEXO. Biocontrol of Xylella and its vector in olive trees for integrated pest management
Plants are subject to infestation by pests and pathogens causing diseases. Among the diseases of great importance in European agriculture is Xylella fastidiosa, a pathogenic bacterium infecting olives and almonds in Spain and Italy, for which currently no organic solution exists. While some crop diseases can be well managed by using biocontrol agents, major efforts are needed to find sustainable approaches to fighting Xylella. As the disease is spreading further every year and a sustainable solution is missing, farmers have to destroy infected plants and can be required to use chemical products even on organic farms, which then cannot sell their products as certified organic.
We aim to identify new, environmentally and economically viable plant protection solutions based on the use of biopesticides targeting either Xylella directly or the insect vector transmitting the disease, and to make them available for rapid market introduction. Specifically, we will utilize a set of newly developed microbial agents and plant and microbial plant protection compounds and test them for the use as biopesticides against Xylella and its adult spittlebug vector, respectively. Some of these products are currently tested in fields in Apulia, Italy, to evaluate their effects on olive quick decline syndrome (TRL 4-6). We will produce, optimize and formulate these biopesticides and upgrade their production at high pilot scales for better delivery on the field and evaluation of disease control. We further aim to provide integrated pest management through combined use of these products and to evaluate efficacies in large field trials in Apulia and Majorca on cultivated olive trees, wild olives, and almonds growing under different climate and soil conditions. Lastly, we will determine the modes of action of these biopesticides (e.g. via inducing plant resistance, direct biocontrol effects on Xylella and/or its vector, or niche exclusion of the pathogen) and monitor their persistence and behavior in the plant. We will also verify that the envisaged solutions are sustainable and have no adverse non-target effects on the environment and natural insect populations (i.e. pollinators such as bees) by performing risk, toxicity, and pathogenicity analyses.
The envisaged project shall contribute to the following impacts:
- Reduce Xylella pressure and disease severity and protect the environment.
- Protect long established olive orchards as natural heritage.
- Save jobs in the contaminated areas and ensure continued olive cultivation in disease-affected areas.
- Reduce cost of pest control by 15% as compared with chemical insecticides,
- Develop products to TRL 8 close to the market for the use in organic and non-organic farms.
Our consortium includes experts from academia in Italy (IPSP-CNR Bari and Centro di Ricerca “Basile Caramia” Bari), Spain (Univ. Sevilla) and Austria (AIT Austrian Institute of Technology) and companies from Austria (consultant RTDS), Belgium (Globachem), Spain (Domca in main land and Aimerit s.l. in Majorca) and Slovenia (Acies bio). This consortium contains 3 SMEs, 1 large industry, 1 consultant and 4 academic partners. The envisaged project duration will be 5 years.