Biological control and natural biomolecules

Chemical characterization of natural biomolecules for their use as biopesticides


Plant metabolism produces primary metabolites, which are essential for life, and also a high number of secondary metabolites. The latter are not essential for the plant growth and development but play a major role for the plant-environment relationship through their actions of attraction, stimulation, protection and control. The secondary metabolites are a great resource of organic molecules with biological activity. Extracts of officinaI and aromatic plants (essential oils and isolated compounds) contain substances which are known to inhibit the activity of microorganisms, insects and nematodes. However, many of them have not been studied in depth and have not been used as biopesticides.  Natural pesticides or biopesticides are an alternative to the use of conventional synthetic pesticides in the control of plant diseases.  In most cases, organic molecules of plant origin with antiparasitic activity have a lower impact on the environment than conventional products. In the US, there is a list of “minimal risk pesticides” which may be used as pesticides. They are not registered and the list includes some plant extracts.

With the directives 91/414, 2009/128 and with the regulation 1107/2009, the EU introduced more stringent principles about pesticides (precaution principle, mandatory application of integrated or biological management, consumers’ and farmers’ protection, etc) for a more sustainable use of plant protection products and for the protection of the environment , of human and animal health. Natural organic molecules of plant origin with a proven pest control activity will be included in the category “basic substances”. They will not be registered, and restrictions for use will be limited in that they are not hazardous for the environment.

The assessment of pesticide safety is based on specific evaluations of pesticidal concentrations in the soil and in surface waters and the use of mathematical models for predicative studies.

Information on degradation and soil absorption may help understanding the extent of the impact on the environment. In the environment, the pesticide molecule undergoes abiotic (photolytic or chemical) and biotic degradation processes. Retention and mobility of a pesticide in the soil result from the uptake response which is ruled by the chemical and physical properties of the soil and of pesticides.

The correct evaluation of the real environmental risk relies on the in-depth study of the residue evolution but also on the fate of degradation products which may have a high toxicity. 

Starting: 2.01.2008
Scheduled ending: 18.09.2019
Real ending: 18.09.2019


a)      Chemical characterization of plant extracts, isolation of organic molecules with pest control activity, study of their mechanism of action and application trials in vitroand in the field.

b)      Study of processes and phenomena relating to the fate (persistence, degradation, mobility) of active substances of natural origin in the environment

c)      Pollution risk assessment through mathematical models

d)      Study of the interaction dynamics (adsorption, degradation, release, mobility) of plant protection products with the soil and also with its inorganic and organic components



Identification of new biopesticides of plant origin to be used for the biological and conventional pest control in compliance with the new European legislation on the sustainable use of plant protection products.



Plant protection products are usually xenobiotic molecules used as inputs for the control of weeds, insects and pests. Their ingredients and residues are often undesired compounds harmful for the health of living organisms. Old active principles still persist in the environment although they are no longer on the market. The research activity analyses some of the la test compounds in order to asses their impact on the environment.  This scientific theme which is diffused across the world allows MAI.B joining the international research area. 



·        Strengths

The activity of research has allowed to initiate fruitful collaborations with national and foreign research centres.

·        Weaknesses

The number of substances liable to be studied is limited since a mass spectrometer is not available in the lab. 

Reference person/s: Cavoski Ivana / Mondelli Donato / Simeone Vito /
Collaborators: Al Bitar Lina / Al Chami Ziad /
Institutions involved:
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