Before a biological agent may be used, it must undergo rigorous security checks to ensure that it does not cause negative side effects on humans or the environment.
CBC's research on safety and regulations in biological control
It is important to ensure that biological control does not result in unacceptable side-effects on humans or in the environment in a wide sense. Therefore CBC presents new strategies and methodology for assessing safety of biocontrol agents.
Some forms of biological control are regulated according to law and safety assessment is therefore intimately connected with prevailing regulatory conditions.
Human safety: toxicity
One topic is development of new methodology for ensuring that new microbial agents are safe to humans. Special focus is on screening for toxin production in biocontrol fungi, by determining effects of extracts or culture filtrates from the fungi in laboratory bioassays with the unicellular ciliate Tetrahymena pyriformis.
Potential environmental side-effects: ecology of biocontrol agents
We also develop and use strain- and group-specific genetic markers in combination with real-time PCR methods to look at the fate in the environment of biocontrol agents. One example is a seed-applied Pseudomonas bacterium that can control snow mould in cereal production, where we have used the new method to describe the colonisation of the growing plant by the beneficial bacterium.
In another project we have developed new molecular tools for studying the fundamental ecology of the biological insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis (Bti). Using these we investigate to which extent long-term treatment of floodwater mosquito larvae with Bti can induce changes in communities of this bacterial group in periodically flooded riverine wetlands. The field work takes place in the lower River Dalälven region of Sweden, where Bti products have been used for more than 10 years to control massive populations of mosquito larvae.
Tetrahymena pyriformis, a unicellular ciliat used to assess the toxicity of fungal toxins. Photo: Ingvar Sundh.
Regulatory frameworks and policies
On the regulatory and policy side, CBC activities and publications have suggested outlines for new regulatory systems, more in level with actual risks of biological control to people and environment. This topic was also highlighted by the editorial efforts put in for a book on CABI publishing.
CBC scientists provide expert counselling, concerning safety assessment as well as legislation and policy issues in biological control, to a number of Swedish authorities, stakeholder organisations and companies. At an international level, CBC regularly provides expert opinions through participation in EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) scientific panels and working groups. Examples are the PPR (plant protection products) panel and the working group for updates of the QPS (Qualified Presumption of Safety) list of microorganisms.
CBC scientists also participate in an expert group at the EU Commission, developing new criteria for plant protection products with low risk.