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Biopesticides, a contraction of 'biological pesticides', include several types of pest management intervention: through predatory, parasitic, or chemical relationships. The term has been associated historically with biological pest control – and by implication, the manipulation of living organisms. Regulatory positions can be influenced by public perceptions, thus:

  • in the EU, biopesticides have been defined as "a form of pesticide based on micro-organisms or natural products".[1]
  • the US EPA states that they "include naturally occurring substances that control pests (biochemical pesticides), microorganisms that control pests (microbial pesticides), and pesticidal substances produced by plants containing added genetic material (plant-incorporated protectants) or PIPs".

They are obtained from organisms including plants, bacteria and other microbes, fungi, nematodes, etc.[2][page needed][3] They are often important components of integrated pest management (IPM) programmes, and have received much practical attention as substitutes to synthetic chemical plant protection products (PPPs).


Biopesticides can be classified into these classes:

  • Microbial pesticides which consist of bacteria, entomopathogenic fungi or viruses (and sometimes includes the metabolites that bacteria or fungi produce). Entomopathogenic nematodes are also often classed as microbial pesticides, even though they are multicellular.[4][5][6][page needed]
  • Bio-derived chemicals. Four groups are in commercial use: pyrethrum, rotenone, neem oil, and various essential oils are naturally occurring substances that control (or monitor in the case of pheromones) pests and microbial diseases.[7][8]
  • Plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs) have genetic material from other species incorporated into their genetic material (i.e. GM crops). Their use is controversial, especially in many European countries.[9]
  • RNAi pesticides, some of which are topical and some of which are absorbed by the crop.

Biopesticides have usually no known function in photosynthesis, growth or other basic aspects of plant physiology. Instead, they are active against biological pests. Many chemical compounds have been identified that are produced by plants to protect them from pests so they are called antifeedants. These materials are biodegradable and renewable alternatives, which can be economical for practical use. Organic farming systems embraces this approach to pest control.[8]

RNA interference[edit]

RNA interference is under study for possible use in spray-on insecticides (RNAi insecticides) by multiple companies, including Monsanto, Syngenta, and Bayer. Such sprays do not modify the genome of the target plant. The RNA could be modified to maintain its effectiveness as target species evolve tolerance to the original. RNA is a relatively fragile molecule that generally degrades within days or weeks of application. Monsanto estimated costs to be on the order of $5/acre.[10]

RNAi has been used to target weeds that tolerate Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. RNAi mixed with a silicone surfactant that let the RNA molecules enter air-exchange holes in the plant's surface that disrupted the gene for tolerance, affecting it long enough to let the herbicide work. This strategy would allow the continued use of glyphosate-based herbicides, but would not per se assist a herbicide rotation strategy that relied on alternating Roundup with others.[10]

They can be made with enough precision to kill some insect species, while not harming others. Monsanto is also developing an RNA spray to kill Colorado potato beetles. One challenge is to make it linger on the plant for a week, even if it's raining. The potato beetle has become resistant to more than 60 conventional insecticides.[10]

Monsanto lobbied the U.S. EPA to exempt RNAi pesticide products from any specific regulations (beyond those that apply to all pesticides) and be exempted from rodent toxicity, allergenicity and residual environmental testing. In 2014 an EPA advisory group found little evidence of a risk to people from eating RNA.[10]

However, in 2012, the Australian Safe Food Foundation posited that the RNA trigger designed to change the starch content of wheat might interfere with the gene for a human liver enzyme. Supporters countered that RNA does not appear to make it past human saliva or stomach acids. The US National Honey Bee Advisory Board told EPA that using RNAi would put natural systems at "the epitome of risk". The beekeepers cautioned that pollinators could be hurt by unintended effects and that the genomes of many insects are still unknown. Other unassessed risks include ecological (given the need for sustained presence for herbicide and other applications) and the possible for RNA drift across species boundaries.[10]

Monsanto has invested in multiple companies for their RNA expertise, including Beeologics (for RNA that kills a parasitic mite that infests hives and for manufacturing technology) and Preceres (nanoparticle lipidoid coatings) and licensed technology from Alnylam and Tekmira. In 2012 Syngenta acquired Devgen, a European RNA partner. Startup Forrest Innovations is investigating RNAi as a solution to citrus greening disease that in 2014 caused 22 percent of oranges in Florida to fall off the trees.[10]


Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium capable of causing disease of Lepidoptera, Coleoptera and Diptera, is a well-known insecticide example. The toxin from B. thuringiensis (Bt toxin) has been incorporated directly into plants through the use of genetic engineering. The use of Bt toxin is particularly controversial. Its manufacturers claim it has little effect on other organisms, and is more environmentally friendly than synthetic pesticides.

Other microbial control agents include products based on:

Various naturally occurring materials, including fungal and plant extracts, have been described as biopesticides. Products in this category include:


Biopesticides are biological or biologically-derived agents, that are usually applied in a manner similar to chemical pesticides, but achieve pest management in an environmentally friendly way. With all pest management products, but especially microbial agents, effective control requires appropriate formulation[14] and application.[15][16]

Biopesticides for use against crop diseases have already established themselves on a variety of crops. For example, biopesticides already play an important role in controlling downy mildew diseases. Their benefits include: a 0-Day Pre-Harvest Interval (see: maximum residue limit), the ability to use under moderate to severe disease pressure, and the ability to use as a tank mix or in a rotational program with other registered fungicides. Because some market studies estimate that as much as 20% of global fungicide sales are directed at downy mildew diseases, the integration of bio fungicides into grape production has substantial benefits in terms of extending the useful life of other fungicides, especially those in the reduced-risk category.

A major growth area for biopesticides is in the area of seed treatments and soil amendments. Fungicidal and biofungicidal seed treatments are used to control soil-borne fungal pathogens that cause seed rots, damping-off, root rot and seedling blights. They can also be used to control internal seed-borne fungal pathogens as well as fungal pathogens that are on the surface of the seed. Many biofungicidal products also show capacities to stimulate plant host defense and other physiological processes that can make treated crops more resistant to a variety of biotic and abiotic stresses.


  • High specificity: which may require an exact identification of the pest/pathogen and the use of multiple products to be used; although this can also be an advantage in that the biopesticide is less likely to harm species other than the target
  • Often slow speed of action (thus making them unsuitable if a pest outbreak is an immediate threat to a crop)
  • Often variable efficacy due to the influences of various biotic and abiotic factors (since some biopesticides are living organisms, which bring about pest/pathogen control by multiplying within or nearby the target pest/pathogen)
  • Living organisms evolve and increase their resistance to biological, chemical, physical or any other form of control. If the target population is not exterminated or rendered incapable of reproduction, the surviving population can acquire a tolerance of whatever pressures are brought to bear, resulting in an evolutionary arms race.
  • Unintended consequences: Studies have found broad spectrum biopesticides have lethal and nonlethal risks for non-target native pollinators such as Melipona quadrifasciata in Brazil.[17]

Biopesticides market research[edit]

The market for agricultural biologicals will reach $19.5 billion by 2031 as predicted by Market Research Company, IDTechEx in the report 'Biostimulants and Biopesticides 2021-2031: Technologies, Markets and Forecasts'.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Encouraging innovation in biopesticide development" (PDF) (News alert). European Commission DG ENV. 18 December 2008. Issue 134. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 May 2012. Retrieved 20 April 2012.
  2. ^ Copping, Leonard G. (2009). The Manual of Biocontrol Agents: A World Compendium. BCPC. ISBN 978-1-901396-17-1.
  3. ^ "Regulating Biopesticides". Pesticides. Environmental Protection Agency of the USA. 2 November 2011. Archived from the original on 6 September 2012. Retrieved 20 April 2012.
  4. ^ a b Coombs, Amy (1 June 2013). "Fighting Microbes with Microbes". The Scientist. Archived from the original on 2013-01-07. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
  5. ^ Malherbe, Stephanus (21 January 2017). "Listing 17 microbes and their effects on soil, plant health and biopesticide functions". Explogrow. London. Archived from the original on 2016-02-19. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  6. ^ Francis Borgio J, Sahayaraj K and Alper Susurluk I (eds) . Microbial Insecticides: Principles and Applications, Nova Publishers, USA. 492pp. ISBN 978-1-61209-223-2
  7. ^ Isman, Murray B. (2006). "Botanical Insecticides, Deterrents, and Repellants in Modern Agriculture and an Increasingly Regulated World" (PDF). Annual Review of Entomology. 51: 45–66. doi:10.1146/annurev.ento.51.110104.151146. PMID 16332203. S2CID 32196104 – via Semantic Scholar.
  8. ^ a b Pal GK, Kumar B. "Antifungal activity of some common weed extracts against wilt causing fungi, Fusarium oxysporum" (PDF). Current Discovery. 2 (1): 62–67. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 December 2013.
  9. ^ National Pesticide Information Center. Last updated November 21, 2013 Plant Incorporated Protectants (PIPs) / Genetically Modified Plants
  10. ^ a b c d e f "With BioDirect, Monsanto Hopes RNA Sprays Can Someday Deliver Drought Tolerance and Other Traits to Plants on Demand | MIT Technology Review". Retrieved 2015-08-31.
  11. ^ Benhamou, N.; Lafontaine, P. J.; Nicole, M. (December 2012). "Induction of Systemic Resistance to Fusarium Crown and Root Rot in Tomato Plants by Seed Treatment with Chitosan" (PDF). Phytopathology. American Phytopathological Society. 84 (12): 1432–44. doi:10.1094/Phyto-84-1432. ISSN 0031-949X. OCLC 796025684. Retrieved February 8, access
  12. ^ "Canola Oil insectide" (PDF). 18 Nov 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  13. ^ "EU Pesticides database - European Commission". Retrieved 2020-11-19.
  14. ^ Burges, H.D. (ed.) 1998 Formulation of Microbial Biopesticides, beneficial microorganisms, nematodes and seed treatments Publ. Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, 412 pp.
  15. ^ Matthews GA, Bateman RP, Miller PCH (2014) Pesticide Application Methods (4th Edition), Chapter 16. Wiley, UK.
  16. ^ L Lacey & H Kaya (eds.) (2007) Field Manual of Techniques in Invertebrate Pathology 2nd edition. Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, NL.
  17. ^ Tomé, Hudson Vaner V.; Barbosa, Wagner F.; Martins, Gustavo F.; Guedes, Raul Narciso C. (2015-04-01). "Spinosad in the native stingless bee Melipona quadrifasciata: Regrettable non-target toxicity of a bioinsecticide". Chemosphere. 124: 103–109. doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2014.11.038. PMID 25496737.
  18. ^ Dent, Dr. Michael (2020). Biostimulants and Biopesticides 2021-2031: Technologies, Markets and Forecasts. IDTechEx. ISBN 9781913899066.

External links[edit]