Using an Antarctic fungus as a wintertime biopesticide

Using an Antarctic fungus as a wintertime biopesticide

Start date
1 April, 2016
End date
31 October, 2017

Can a fungus from an Antarctic soil be used to control weevil larvae causing damage to UK soft fruits and forestry?

The larvae of weevils, which overwinter in soil and destroy the roots of strawberries, raspberries and saplings in spring, are currently controlled using the insecticides alpha-cypermethrin, cypermethrin and acetamiprid. However, because of concerns over their environmental impacts, the European Union has banned the use of these insecticides, with special derogation for cypermethrin expiring in 2017 and with acetamiprid likely to be withdrawn in 2020. After then, the estimated losses to UK horticulture and forestry are £18 million per annum. Biopesticides must therefore be developed to control the larvae.

Dr Kevin Newsham in the field


In collaboration with staff at the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International and AlphaBio Control Ltd., BAS scientists have won NERC Innovation funding to develop a cold-tolerant biopesticide from Mortierella, a fungus inhabiting Antarctic soil. We propose to apply the biopesticide to UK and other European soils during the wintertime. Because the fungus is cold-tolerant, we will test its ability to grow through soils during the winter and early spring, controlling weevil larvae by exuding enzymes into the soil around it, and effectively reducing the losses incurred to UK horticulture and forestry.

This project addresses the BAS Grand Challenge of People and the poles, specifically managing natural resources from the polar regions, and the Industrial Strategy Challenge ‘Bioscience and biotechnology’.

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Rothera Research Station

The largest British Antarctic facility is a centre for biological research and a hub for supporting deep-field science.