A project funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD) will explore the potential of bacteriophages as biopesticides for soft rot, a major disease of vegetables in the Philippines.

The project is led by the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture-Regional Crop Protection Clusters, Benguet State University (BSU), and local government units.

A bacteriophage or phage is a virus that infects bacteria. It injects its genetic material past the bacterial cell wall and produces multiple progenies inside the cell. The bacterium ruptures and dies as a result, while the phage progenies spread and invade other bacteria.

Phages have highly specific target hosts and are effective against antibiotic- and heavy metal-resistant bacteria. They are cheap and easy to prepare. As biocontrol agents, phages may lower the cost of crop protection, which will benefit vegetable farmers.

Application of bacteriophages to vegetables may cut the use of chemical pesticides and thus, lessen the chemical residues on vegetables. Controlling soft rot through the use of phages may also extend the shelf life of vegetables.

Bacteriophages are already being used in the US and Europe for food-borne pathogens and are generally regarded as safe.

No effective control strategies against soft rot of vegetables in the Philippines exist at present.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September 2018 issue.