The unpredictable risk imposed by microbial secondary metabolites: how safe is biological control of plant diseases?
Currently, a strong public and political demand for reducing chemical pesticides exists, supporting strengthening of biological plant protection programs in agriculture. Biological plant protection strategies largely depend on introducing antagonistic microorganisms to agro-ecosystems. This approach would indeed reduce the impact of synthetic chemistries and may help avoiding development of fungicide-resistant pathogen populations, but on the other hand may strongly increase the load of microbial toxins. In crops treated with biological control agents, neither the newly forming (confronting) microbial communities nor the secondary metabolites synthesized by these are known. Many microbial secondary metabolites may not only exhibit acute toxicities significantly exceeding those of fungicides, but even act as strong carcinogens. This paper discusses the risks imposed by the introduction of biological control agents and strongly suggests including secondary metabolite gene cluster expression data into the list of information required for approving any plant protection agents and releasing them to the field. Secondary metabolism gene expression data could strongly support assessing the risk imposed by microorganisms used in disease and pest control.
KeywordsBiologics Biologicals Biological control Microbiological control agents Plant protection Secondary metabolites Toxins
The authors thank Johannes Hallmann, Julius-Kühn-Institute for Epidemiology and Pathogen Diagnostics, Münster, Germany, Fred Klingauf, Julius-Kühn-Institute, Braunschweig, Germany, Falko Feldmann, Deutsche Phytomedizinische Gesellschaft (DPG), Braunschweig, Germany, and Axel A. Brakhage, Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology—Hans-Knöll-Institute (HKI), Jena, Germany, for critically reading and commenting on the manuscript. Research in the laboratory of H.B.D was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF; AZ 031A353A) and the German Research Foundation (DFG; DE 403/18-1).
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