Biopesticides: The Future of Pest Control?

September 17, 2009 |

Biopesticides: The Future of Pest Control?

Have you ever marveled over the natural link among things that seem as totally disparate as stale beer, fox urine, fungi, canola oil, parasitic wasps, bacteria, garlic leaves and DDT? Well, if you said “yes” (and love doing lab work), you are all set to pursue a wonderful career in the newly budding field of “biopesticides”.

It’s not exactly a new field. In fact, it’s been nearly 20 years since Mycogen Corp. received the landmark first EPA approval in 1990 to conduct large-scale field tests on genetically engineered insecticides – MVP and M-One Plus – to kill pests (mostly beetles) that attacked tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and ornamental trees. And it’s true that corporate giants like Dow Chemical and Eli Lilly got involved early in the science that – quite literally – branched out in all directions over the ensuing years.

But sadly, all that “branching” turned out to be a major delay – not far removed from getting bogged down mapping strands of DNA, and in fact quite related. For a substance to be classified by the EPA truly as a “biopesticide” its ingredients usually target specifically just one or a very few related “biopests” – for instance, an annoying insect larva and its hungry little arthropod relatives – for one specific plant.

As a result, the EPA has approved over 200 biopesticides now sold in over 800 products – some quite effective in their highly targeted uses, and none causing residual damage to the environment. This EPA link will show you how complex this has become: These “clean” ingredients comprise a mere 1-3% of the total pesticide market, however, and the reason is simple: None of them is a sure-fire, multi-threat, all-crop protector like DDT before it was banned in 1972!

In fairness, today’s mass-market, chemical-based pesticides are not as lethal or environmentally destructive as DDT, to be sure. And, also in their favor, they have been more economically viable for modern agribusiness than the highly targeted biopesticides, which fare far better in “boutique” agri-markets. The overall pesticides market is similar to the one getting far more media attention in recent years – the quest to identify renewable, sustainable biomass sources as alternatives to fossil-based fuel and ingredient manufacturing. In both cases, it’s a matter of economy of scale.

Biopesticides are doing their best to tip that scale in a number of ways. The Biopesticide Industry Alliance (BPIA) has evolved in recent years to give the effort a common voice and today claims about 50 corporate members, many of them exciting new companies ( The biggest “scale tipper” though, will be the breakthroughs these and other biopesticides researchers discover – and the industry is abuzz with an increasing number recently, most of them connected with major research universities.

One of them – a collaborative effort between Evolugate LLC of Gainesville, FL, and researchers for the University of Florida – last month announced it had discovered ways to “program” certain strains of fungi to “evolve” themselves to infect and kill certain harmful insects, like grasshoppers, whose biological resistance can now be destroyed by a “breakthrough in experimental evolution,” according to the research report.

Many of the discoveries are offshoots of genome mapping of certain food plants. An example was at Michigan State University, where plant scientists recently found two new genes and two new enzymes in tomato plants that show tomatoes (and likely other plants) uniquely manufacture their own monoterpenes – odors which attract pollinators, repel pests, and protect the plant from disease. This data will be highly useful in developing specific pesticides.

Other discoveries are coming from unlikely sources. An example is work being done by Maronne Bio Innovations of Davis, CA, which is developing a marine microorganism discovered by DuPont and Biomar, S.A., for use as a rice herbicide. Maronne is doing deeper research with the University of California at San Diego and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to locate other marine microbes that can be used to fight pests, weeds and plant diseases.

Industry sources expect the biopesticides industry to grow as much as 10% to 20% a year in the immediate future – with possible huge breakthroughs as lab work is commercialized. The consumer mood for “green” solutions will be helpful, they say.

But if you’re too impatient to wait, don’t worry. Get a taste of the future now! Go buy a sack of Shake Away for your yard or garden. It is EPA-approved granulated fox urine that “keeps beavers, chipmunks, groundhogs, gophers, porcupines, mice, moles, possum, rabbits, rats, shrews, skunks, squirrels, woodchucks, and voles away.”

If your problem is foxes, just be patient and buy yourself a dog.


3 Responses to Biopesticides: The Future of Pest Control?

  1. Discover more about Molcajete February 1, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    I’ll immediately take hold of your rss feed as I can’t find your email subscription link or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly permit me realize in order that I may subscribe. Thanks.

  2. SteveDubloom November 19, 2009 at 8:40 am #

    It would be great to have more natural options for exterminating pests. Especially certain ones that tend to be resistant to many of the commercially available pesticides. Bed bugs, for example, tend to be hard to kill because the majority of the chemical pesticides that are strong enough to kill them are either outright banned or simply too dangerous to use in a home environment. Even through a professional like Terminix, bed bugs can be quite unruly. If they created a biopesticide that could be used safely indoors but carries the strength of some of the chemical pesticides (even if ONLY for bed bugs), it would alleviate a lot of the problems associated with a bed bug infestation, especially the part about getting rid of them!

  3. Anonymous September 19, 2009 at 10:51 am #

    How to kill pests without killing yourself or the earth……

    Americans rank their fear of pest infestations third – only after their fear of fire and natural disaster – on the list of threats to their homes that they worry about most. This is why the buSINess of pest control is so lucrative and effects so many of us.
    There are about 50 to 60 million insect species on earth – we have named only about 1 million and there are only about 1 thousand pest species – already over 50% of these thousand pests are already resistant to our volatile, dangerous, synthetic pesticide POISONS. We accidentally lose about 25,000 to 100,000 species of insects, plants and animals every year due to “man’s footprint”. But, after poisoning the entire world and contaminating every living thing for over 60 years with these dangerous and ineffective pesticide POISONS we have not even controlled much less eliminated even one pest species and every year we use/misuse more and more pesticide POISONS to try to “keep up”! Even with all of this expensive and unnecessary pollution – we lose more and more crops and lives to these thousand pests every year.

    We are losing the war against these thousand pests mainly because we insist on using only synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers There has been a severe “knowledge drought” – a worldwide decline in agricultural R&D, especially in production research and safe, more effective pest control since the advent of synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers. Today we are like lemmings running to the sea insisting that is the “right way”. The greatest challenge facing humanity this century is the necessity for us to double our global food production with less land, less water, less nutrients, less science, frequent droughts, more and more contamination and ever-increasing pest damage.

    National Poison Prevention Week, March 18-24,2007 was created to highlight the dangers of poisoning and how to prevent it. One study shows that about 70,000 children in the USA were involved in common household pesticide-related (acute) poisonings or exposures in 2004. At least two peer-reviewed studies have described associations between autism rates and pesticides (D’Amelio et al 2005; Roberts EM et al 2007 in EHP). It is estimated that 300,000 farm workers suffer acute pesticide poisoning each year just in the United States – No one is checking chronic contamination.
    In order to try to help “stem the tide”, I have just finished re-writing my IPM encyclopedia entitled: THE BEST CONTROL II, that contains over 2,800 safe and far more effective alternatives to pesticide POISONS. This latest copyrighted work is about 1,900 pages in length and is now being updated at my new website at .

    This new website at has been basically updated; all we have left to update is Chapter 39 and to renumber the pages. All of these copyrighted items are free for you to read and/or download. There is simply no need to POISON yourself or your family or to have any pest problems.

    Stephen L. Tvedten
    2530 Hayes Street
    Marne, Michigan 49435
    When a man who is honestly mistaken hears the truth, he will either quit being mistaken or cease to be honest.

Leave a Reply

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *