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AGRICULTURE

Winged production

Companies develop methods for breeding insects for pollination and pest control

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa suspecta) in a greenhouse at Florilegus, in Jundiaí, state of São Paulo

LÉO RAMOSCarpenter bee (Xylocopa suspecta) in a greenhouse at Florilegus, in Jundiaí, state of São PauloLÉO RAMOS

Nests of the native carpenter bee are expected to be available in the coming months, to be sold to growers of passion fruit. When present in planted fields, these bees increase the number of fruits on the plants through pollination. The insects are being produced, as yet on a pilot scale, by Florilegus, a company in São Paulo that began operations in 2013 for the purpose of producing and selling nests of carpenter bees of a species of the genus Xylocopa. “Individuals and governments in a number of countries are mobilizing to raise the presence of pollinators, which are essential to the agricultural production chain and are often affected by intensive use of insecticides in farming,” explains animal scientist Paola Marchi, the founder of Florilegus. “Brazil, for example, is one of the largest producers of passion fruit, and large bees, such as carpenter bees, are essential because unpollinated flowers do not produce fruit. These bees are becoming increasingly scarce on farms, and there is growing demand for pollination services,” she says.

Growers will be able to obtain nests containing recently-emerged insects, which can be released among flowering crops. “The appropriate number according to area covered and the recommended time they should remain in the planted fields are still being adjusted,” Marchi says. Bees of this species are known to frequently reuse their old nests, and therefore they can remain for several generations in areas where passion fruit crops are grown. But in order for this to happen, the bees need proper conditions for survival, such as other plants from which they can gather pollen, a source of protein, because passion fruit flowers provide only nectar, a source of energy.

In order to develop the technology for breeding carpenter bees, the researcher is studying reproductive aspects of these insects, such as the females’ ability to produce descendents. “In addition, storage and the incubation period for immature individuals are being tested at different temperatures to calculate and manipulate the carpenter bees’ emergence,” Marchi says. “We are developing and refining techniques for multiplying the nests, as well as transporting and installing them in planted fields.

Another company, PROMIP, in the municipality of Engenheiro Coelho in the Campinas Metropolitan Region, is developing a technology for breeding native bees for pollination. They are a stingless species known as mandaguari (Scaptotrigona depilis), which lives in colonies and can pollinate crops such as strawberries, tomatoes and coffee, for example. “We started the project in 2010,” says founding partner Marcelo Poletti. “It was divided into three phases: laboratory assessment of mass production, study of the insects’ compatibility with the chemicals used in agriculture, and effectiveness in the field. We are now in the final phase and should begin selling the nests in 2016.”

Bracon hebetor, a wasp raised at Bug, attacks a moth larva (Ephestia sp.)

BugBracon hebetor, a wasp raised at Bug, attacks a moth larva (Ephestia sp.)Bug

PROMIP already has on the market three species of tiny predatory mites (which are not insects, but rather arachnids, like spiders and ticks) used in biological control of pests. Two of these species, Phytoseiulus macropilis and Neoseiulus californicus, control another type of mite, the two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae), which causes damage to vegetables, fruits, flowers and other cultivated plants. The third species, Stratiolaelaps scimitus, is used as a control agent for the fungus gnat (Bradysia matogrossensis), an insect that feeds on mushrooms, and it attacks the roots of several crops, mainly during seedling formation. “We produce about 100 million individuals of these three species per month in our biofactory,” Poletti notes. “They are sold to growers and resellers.”

Another company already established in the market is Bug. Located in the city of Piracicaba, it raises four species of small parasitoid wasps, as well as the hosts on which they propagate. Trichogramma galloi and Trichogramma pretiosum are used to control the eggs of the sugarcane borer (Diatraea saccharalis), a small moth that, in the larval stage, attacks sugarcane crops (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue nº 195). “If the borer infestation reaches 10% of the crop, the losses can exceed R$1,000.00 per hectare,” says Alexandre de Sene Pinto, a partner and director of research and development for Bug. The company also breeds Telenomus podisi, which parasitizes the eggs of the neotropical brown stinkbug (Euschistus heros), an insect that damages crops including soybeans, beans and rice. The small wasp Bracon hebetor eliminates the larvae of moths that infest stored products such as tobacco and peanuts.

All of the tiny wasps are bred through the use of other insect species, which are raised at Bug’s facilities especially for that purpose. The two species of the genus Trichogramma and B. hebetor, for example, are propagated on eggs and larvae of the Anagasta kuehniella moth. Telenomus podisi is reared on eggs of its natural host, the neotropical brown stinkbug. “The Trichogramma galloi species was first raised in 2001 on a small scale, but today we produce about 250 million of them each day, enough to treat 7,000 hectares of sugarcane to control borer eggs,” says Sene Pinto.

Stingless bee, one type of insect raised for pollination at PROMIP, in the city of Engenheiro Coelho, São Paulo

PROMIP Stingless bee, one type of insect raised for pollination at PROMIP, in the city of Engenheiro Coelho, São PauloPROMIP

Fruit flies
Moscamed, in the city of Juazeiro, Bahia State, is a nonprofit public interest group with a different biological control strategy for pests. Its biofactory produces sterile male Mediterranean fruit flies (Ceratitis capitata), which are released onto fruit crops (mango, grapes, guava, acerola, orange), mainly in the Northeast, to compete with their wild cousins of the same genus (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue nº 133). Moscamed president Jair Fernandes Virgínio explains that the variety used for breeding is Vienna 8, developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Unlike the wild lineages, Vienna 8 has male and female pupae of different colors. This makes it possible to determine the sex of the insect that will emerge.

The company uses this advantage to eliminate the females during the egg stage through hydrothermal treatment. Water heated to 34°C kills all the eggs containing females, leaving only the males, which are then sterilized by radiation (X-rays or gamma rays) and released into nature. The area is monitored beforehand to estimate the number of existing flies. “We release from one to nine sterile males for each wild one,” Virgínio explains. “They will compete for the females. After a sterile male mates with one of them, they will lay their eggs on the fruit, but they will not produce descendents. Over time, as more sterile males are released, the population of flies falls to a level that does not cause economic losses.”

A similar principle is being tested by the Grape & Wine Research Center, a unit of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa Grape & Wine), in Bento Gonçalves, state of Rio Grande do Sul. But the test subject is the South American fruit fly (Anastrepha fraterculus), which damages fruit crops in the region, mainly apples and peaches. The difference is that both males and females will be sterilized, because the sex of this insect cannot be determined during the pupa phase. Therefore, during early experimental releases, some damage to fruit may be seen. The flies continue to lay eggs, even when they are infertile. The premise is that, when the sterile insects are released, the fly populations will be reduced.

According to Adalécio Kovaleski, a researcher in entomology at Embrapa Grape & Wine, the pupae will be produced at its Experimental Station for Temperate Climate Fruticulture (EFCT) in Vacaria, Rio Grande do Sul. They will be brought each week to the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture at the University of São Paulo (CENA/USP) in Piracicaba, where they will be sterilized through radiation exposure. “Back in Rio Grande do Sul, the sterile adult flies will be released in experimental areas of sizes varying from 50 to 100 hectares,” he says. “Concurrently, under the same project, we’re going to test biological control using Diachasmimorpha longicaudata, a small wasp that feeds on the larva of the South American fruit fly. These little wasps will be released in areas where there are native fruits.”

Insect-producing companies are popping up because the use of insects in farming reduces or eliminates the need to employ chemicals such as insecticides. “In southern Brazil, the tobacco moth is responsible for the loss of up to 10% of the stored product, besides causing small farmers to use insecticides in environments that they and their families frequent, resulting in cases of poisoning,” says Kovaleski. In Rio Grande do Sul, he says, in apple crops alone, the South American fruit fly causes annual losses of nearly R$30 million—the cost of insecticides and crop damage during harvest, which represents 2% of the yield. The losses are caused by the absence of pollinators. “Not having them in the fields can result in a 40% reduction in productivity,” says Poletti from PROMIP.

Projects
1. Creation of solitary bees of the species Xylocopa frontalis (Olivier) in greenhouse on a commercial scale for use in the pollination of passionfruit and other economic crops in Brazil (nº 2013/50035-5); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE); Principal Investigator Paola Marchi Cabral (Florilegus); Investment R$ 91,246.97.
2. Mass production and commercialization of Trissolcus basalis and Telenomus podisi egg parasitoids for soybean stink bugs control (nº 2005/60732-9); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE); Principal Investigator Alexandre de Sene Pinto (Bug); Investment R$419,460.00.
3. Mass rearing and commercialization of Trichogramma Spp and Cotesia Flavipes for the control of agricultural pests (nº 2004/13825-9); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE); Principal Investigator Alexandre de Sene Pinto (Bug); Investment R$ 474,041.00.
4. Large-scale breeding of stingless bees colonies and their commercial use for agricultural polinization (nº 2012/51112-0); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE); Principal Investigator Cristiano Menezes (PROMIP); Investment R$ 627,224.03 and US$3,913.46.

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