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Swansea scientist discovers natural solution for bluetongue disease

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A researcher at Swansea University has discovered that a strain of fungus could be used to control the insect-borne bluetongue virus (BTV) common in livestock, potentially preventing thousands of losses to farmers each year.

Dr Minshad Ali Ansari who works in one of the leading insect mycopathology (insect pest control) teams in the UK – based at Swansea Universitys College of Science – has conducted a study that shows for the first time that the strain of fungus known as Metarhizium anisopliae V275 can effectively kill adult Culicoides (biting midges) in the family of insects that carry BTV.

Healthy_adult_midges
Dr Ansari explained: Although insecticides have proved effective in killing Culicoides species, they have been harmful to a range of beneficial insects.

As a result, the range of available insecticides has diminished as the chemical-based products are withdrawn from the market – because of the perceived risk to humans and the environment – and farmers face a growing challenge to control the population of biting midges.

BTV is an arbovirus, a group of viruses transmitted by arthropod vectors, invertebrates that carry and transmit an infectious agent, in this case the Culicoides biting midge.

The control of bluetongue (BT) disease, which mainly affects sheep and cattle, is of growing importance in Europe due to the influence of climate change. Before 1998, there had only been a few small outbreaks, but increasing temperatures mean the virus is starting to survive further north over the winter.

As a result, BT outbreaks have had a major economic impact in European countries in recent years, through livestock losses and restrictions imposed on cattle movements.

This new study made possible with 400K (Euro), of funding from INTERREG 4A is the first to demonstrate the efficacy of fungus against the adult midges responsible for transmitting BTV. The study is particularly timely as new EU directives are encouraging member states to develop integrated pest management programmes which use benign plant protection products.

Adult_midge_infected
Dr Ansari conducted trials using adult male and female midges and found the fungal susceptibility test identified the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae V275 as highly virulent in both the laboratory and under greenhouse trials – killing the insects within 24 hours.

The tests also revealed that increasing the dose of fungus decreased the number of midges that survived. Encouragingly, the efficiency of the fungus was shown to increase when applied to certain substrates such as manure – as opposed to tissue paper – suggesting success in future field tests.

Although the fungi tested in the study appears to present little risk to people or the environment, widespread use of the fungi will be dependent on rigorous field trials to establish the best formulations and methods of delivery, and to evaluate potential risks.

While earlier research, undertaken by the research team, found that use of the control agent Metarhizium anisopliae is effective when applied to the larval stages of insects yet remained safe for fish, birds and mammals, field experiments of the newly developed strain of fungi (Metarhizium anisopliae V275) will need to thoroughly investigate potential effects on non-target species.

Professor Tariq Butt, who leads the insect mycopathology at Swansea Universitys College of Science concluded: The development of Metarhizium anisopliae V275 – as a control agent for Culicoides biting midges – is a significant step forward for the research team.

The fungi can, potentially, be applied cost-effectively to the places where adult midges rest, such as animal housing and livestock, to effectively target known problem areas.

The next step is to test the fungus in large-scale field trials with the eventual aim of developing protocols for its simple and economical application in BTV endemic countries.

  • Metarhizium anisopliae V275 as a potential control agent for bluetongue-carrying midges is the latest discovery made by researchers within the insect mycopathology (insect pest control) team at Swansea Universitys College of Science and may form part of a wider integrated programme of all-natural pest control.

  • The study was funded by the IMPACT project, which is partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland-Wales Programme (INTERREG 4A).

For further information, see article published in DG ENV News Fungus could help control bluetongue disease http/www.. (to be published 10 March 2011)

Source: Ansari, M. A., Carpenter, S., Schulte, E-J., Pope, E.C., Butt, T.M. (2011). Entomopathogenic fungus as a biological control for an important vector of   livestock disease: the Culicoides biting midge. PLoS ONE. 10.1371/journal.pone.0016108.

  • In March 2010, Dr Minshad Ansari identified naturally occurring alternatives to the pesticides traditionally used to control pests such as the wireworm (the larvae of click beetles) known to cause major problems in arable crops in many parts of the world with a particularly harmful impact on potato yields; with damage to more than 10 to 15 % of potatoes making the crop financially unviable for the farmer. The effects of the Metarhizium anisopliae strain V1002 were found to cause 90% mortality in wireworm larva infected with the fungus: www.swansea.ac.uk/news_centre/NewsArchive/2009-2010/Headline,44708,en.php

  • In July 2010, a project led by Professor Tariq Butt, head of the insect mycopathology team at Swansea University, discovered that a certain strain of the fungal biological control agent (BCA) Metarhizium anisopliae is deadly to vine weevils and western flower thrips.  Applying the fungus to the crop’s growing media, such as peat, coir or bark, the team discovered that they could control the subterranean stages of these pests, and thus contribute significantly to the overall pest control strategy.

  • In February 2011, the product Met52 was launched by Fargro Ltd as an all-natural alternative to pesticides for the control of vine weevils and western flower thrips in horticultural growing media. The product, based on Metarhizium anisopliae, is the result of the research contribution by Professor Butt and his team

  • Swansea University is a world-class, research-led university situated in stunning parkland overlooking Swansea Bay on the edge of the Gower peninsula, the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Founded in 1920, the University now offers around 500 undergraduate courses and 150 postgraduate courses to more than 13,800 students. Visit www.swansea.ac.uk

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