The Early History of Microbial Control

The idea of using entomopathogenic microorganisms to control insect pests is about 150 years old. The discovery of disease-causing microorganisms in the silkworm industry was the first step. Spreading these microorganisms in the field to reduce a pest insect was the second step towards the concept of microbial control. Steinhaus (1956) described the early observations on diseased insects and the rise of the idea of the use of microbial control in the nineteenth century in a fascinating paper. Famous men as Agostini Bassi in Italy, Louis Pasteur in France, J.L. Leconte and H.A. Hagen in the USA were the first to suggest the use of diseases of insects to kill harmful insects in crops (Steinhaus 1956). In his paper in 1879, Hagen suggested mass production of the disease-causing organism and spraying those over the infested plants and to wait for the epizootic effect to reduce the pest. He suggested a greenhouse trial against worms and the potato bug, and considered the dose and the application method. Furthermore, he stated that "____the remedy is very cheap, easy to be prepared, not obnoxious to man or domestic animals, and if successful a benefit to mankind" (Steinhaus 1956). This statement can probably be seen as the first conceptual idea of the development of a microbial pest control product including biological, technical, economical and safety-related considerations. All these aspects then considered by Hagen are still relevant today for the development of a biopesticide.

Simultaneously, Metchnikoff envisaged the use of a fungus, Metarhizium aniso-pliae, to control insects in Russia's agriculture. He succeeded in growing the fungus on a sterilized, artificial medium. Large-scale production and field applications were conducted by Krassiltschik for control of various insect pests in the 1880s (Steinhaus 1956). Similar developments occurred in the 1880-1890s with Beauveria bassiana in the USA (Lord 2005).

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