Microbial Biopesticides for a Safer and Sustainable Pest Management

Pest and Disease Management in Agriculture

Helen Onyeaka

Associate Professor | Food Microbiology Lecturer

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The Need for Safer Pest Management

Agriculture is at the forefront of the global challenge to balance the increasing demand for food production with environmental sustainability and human health [1]. The use of chemical pesticides has been a cornerstone of pest management for decades, but the ecological and health concerns surrounding these chemicals are prompting a shift towards safer and more sustainable alternatives [2,3].
The historical reliance on chemical pesticides has had undeniable consequences [4]. While these chemicals have been effective in curbing crop losses due to pests, they have also raised significant environmental, health, and sustainability concerns. Chemical pesticides can harm beneficial organisms [5], contaminate soil and water sources, and leave pesticide residues on food products. Additionally, the development of pesticide-resistant pests has necessitated the exploration of alternative pest management strategies.

What Are Microbial Biopesticides?

Microbial biopesticides represent a category of eco-friendly alternatives to chemical pesticides [6]. They primarily consist of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa, as well as their metabolic products. These biopesticides are engineered or formulated to target specific pests, leaving non-target organisms unharmed [7]. This precision in pest control is a key advantage of microbial biopesticides.

Types of Microbial Biopesticides

Microbial biopesticides come in various forms, each with a specific mechanism of action and target:

  • Entomopathogenic Microbes: These prokaryotic microbes range from less than 1 μm to several μm in length. These are designed to infect and kill insects, making them valuable for managing insect pests in agriculture [8]. Examples include:
  • Baculoviruses:Species within the family Baculoviridae are characterized as DNA viruses that establish pathogenic relationships with invertebrates. These viruses demonstrate significant potential in the field of biological control [9]. They target specific insect species, offering a high level of precision in pest management [10].
  • Fungal Biopesticides: Certain fungi, such as Beauveria bassiana, which is one of the most used fungal biopesticides and Metarhizium anisopliae,which represents another expolited fungal species that are effective against a wide range of pests [11,12].
  • Bacterial Biopesticides: Bacteria like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) produce proteins toxic to specific insects, making them a valuable tool in organic farming [13]. Betaproteobacteria is another representing another class of bacteria that includes species with notable potential as biocontrol agents. A recent discovery involves an insecticidal strain of Burkholderia rinojensis, which has been identified and used to create a product effective through both ingestion and contact against a wide range of chewing and sucking insects as well as mites [14].
  • Nematode Biopesticides: Entomopathogenic nematode (EPN) species that belong to the genera Heterorhabditis and Steinernema function as obligate parasites. Their remarkable insecticidal potential arises from a mutualistic symbiosis with insect-pathogenic bacteria found in the genera Photorhabdus and Xenorhabdus, respectively [12]. This unique relationship enhances the efficacy of these nematodes in controlling insect pests. Beneficial nematodes parasitize and kill insect larvae in the soil, offering an eco-friendly method for root and soil pest control[15]. Table 1 summarises these microbial biopesticides and the organisms that are involved.

Table 1: Type of Microbial Biopesticides and Organisms involved

TypeOrganism(s) Involved
BaculovirusesDNA viruses (Baculoviridae family)
Fungal BiopesticidesFungi (e.g., Beauveria bassiana, Metarhizium anisopliae)
Bacterial BiopesticidesBacteria (e.g., Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), Betaproteobacteria)
Nematode BiopesticidesNematodes (Entomopathogenic species, e.g., Heterorhabditis, Steinernema)

What are the Benefits of Mirobial Biopesticides?

Precision Pest Control

One of the significant advantages of microbial biopesticides is their precision [16]. Unlike broad-spectrum chemical pesticides that can harm a wide range of organisms, microbial biopesticides target specific pests. This precision not only minimizes the environmental impact but also protects beneficial insects, pollinators, and other non-target organisms. This level of precision makes microbial biopesticides a valuable tool in integrated pest management (IPM) programs, where multiple strategies are employed to minimize the use of chemical pesticides [17].
Reduced Environmental Impact
The environmental impact of chemical pesticides is a growing concern. Runoff from fields treated with chemical pesticides can contaminate water sources, harming aquatic life and potentially impacting human health [18]. Microbial biopesticides, being biodegradable and highly specific in their action, tend to have a lower environmental impact. They are less likely to persist in the environment or accumulate in the food chain and do not leave harmful chemical residues on crops.

Overcoming Pesticide Resistance

The development of pesticide-resistant pests has been a major challenge in pest management [19]. Traditional chemical pesticides often select for resistant individuals, leading to the emergence of pest populations that are impervious to chemical control. Microbial biopesticides offer a different mode of action, making it challenging for pests to develop resistance. This feature is particularly valuable in the fight against pesticide-resistant pests, as it offers a more sustainable long-term solution.

The Challenges and Limitations

While microbial biopesticides offer numerous advantages, they are not without challenges. One challenge is the need for more frequent applications compared to some chemical pesticides. These biopesticides can be sensitive to environmental factors such as UV radiation and high temperatures [20]. Additionally, the development and commercialization of microbial biopesticides can be resource-intensive, requiring research, testing, and manufacturing infrastructure.

Future Prospects

The use of microbial biopesticides is on the rise, and ongoing research aims to overcome some of the limitations associated with these products. Innovations in formulation techniques, such as encapsulating microbes in protective materials, are being explored. These advancements hold promise for expanding the use of microbial biopesticides in agriculture, making them more effective, stable, and cost-effective.


Microbial biopesticides represent a pathway to safer and more sustainable pest management in agriculture. Their precision in pest control, reduced environmental impact, and ability to combat pesticide resistance make them increasingly valuable tools in integrated pest management strategies. While challenges exist, including the need for more frequent applications and sensitivity to environmental conditions, ongoing research and development efforts are likely to expand their use and improve their effectiveness. The transition from chemical pesticides to microbial biopesticides can contribute to safer, more sustainable, and environmentally friendly agricultural practices, supporting a healthier and more resilient agricultural ecosystem.

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