Global food insecurity is probably one of the main threats facing humankind today. Agricultural practices will continue to change over the next number of decades to take into account the demands of an ever increasing human population (9 billion by 2050), changes in global climate, depletion of natural resources and in Europe, an ever decreasing list of available agrichemcials (EU legislation 2014) for the control of pests and pathogens. Sustainability is key to future prosperity. To that end, one method for the control of pathogens (as part of an integrated management strategy), that is becoming increasingly popular, is the use of bacterial-based biological control agents. The market for these bacterial-based products is growing due to the emphasis on sustainability from both regulators and consumers alike. Over the past five years, we have explored microorganisms living in tight association with potato cultivated in high altitudes in the Andean region in South America (http://valoram.ucc.ie/) working with resource-poor farmers. Starting with assessing microbial diversity and obtaining an understanding on plant-microbiome interactions we aimed at tapping microbial diversity for developing biofertilizer and biocontrol applications. We isolated over 900 bacterial isolates from potato fields, identified and screened them in vitro using antagonism plate tests, nutrient acquisition and volatile organic compound emission tests, and plant-growth promotion and disease suppression capability using a microhydroponic system. The best performing isolates in vitro were subsequently tested under open-field conditions in their home countries (Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru). An overview of the selection criteria used for these biological control agents, and the economic and social benefits associated with their use, is presented here.
The research project “VALORAM - Valorizing Andean microbial diversity through sustainable intensification of potato-based farming systems” was supported by European Commission’s Seventh Framework Program FP7/2007-2013 under grant agreement No 227522, 01/02/2009-31/01/2014. The travel to the conference, registration and accomodation was funded by Failte Ireland