BASIS FOR LARGE-SCALE USE OF CULTURED MICROORGANISMS
Microorganisms have proved to have the potential to replace and degrade the chemical pesticides that are used against pests today. They can also reduce nutrient leaching by absorbing nutrients. In addition, microorganisms can be used to produce bioenergy that replaces fossil fuels. The DOM programme started with the task of providing in-depth knowledge of how culturing of microorganisms can be made more efficient and scaled up from the laboratory setting to large-scale production and practical application. One necessary step in this process was developing auxiliary substances and stabilisers that keep microorganisms alive, in latent form, until they are used.
‘The research has helped to expand knowledge of biological control and the rules that apply. The Chemicals Agency examines product applications for biocontrol agents, and DOM has been an important resource in this work. The same applies to the Centre for Biological Control, which was formed from the programme and is in charge of further knowledge transfer, education and training.‘ Kersti Gustafsson, Swedish Chemicals Agency
WHAT ARE THE KEY RESULTS?
The programme involved research on how culturing and stabilisation of microorganisms can take the step from laboratory to viable industrial scale. The work has enhanced understanding of how various microorganisms react and the fact that the processes of formulating product compositions must be differentiated accordingly. Scientists have also attained a better understanding of how different microorganisms affect, and are affected by, stabilisers and auxiliary substances in the process.
Another major component of the programme concerned assessment of domesticated microorganisms in terms of their safety for humankind and the environment, and the regulations surrounding their production and use. The regulatory frameworks are largely adapted to chemicals and are not suitable for microorganisms, which need assessing primarily on the basis of their biological properties. A range of proposals were drawn up to amend the regulations at national and international level.
Another result from DOM is that the Centre for Biological Control (CBC) was set up at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), with a special grant from what is now the Ministry for Rural Affairs (until year-end 2010 the Ministry of Agriculture). The research has also yielded a patent and a spin-off company, Captigel AB, to launch a new type of biocompatible encapsulation and coating for domesticated microorganisms.
WHO HAS BENEFITED FROM THE RESULTS?
Research in DOM is valuable to producers of microbiologically based products, such as biocontrol agents and agricultural fertilisers. Decision makers at agency level in Sweden and the EU also benefit from the results, as do academic researchers interested in similar issues.