Ref. 2018Agro9

On-line application form

Supervisor name and surname:
Primitivo Caballero

Supervisor mail:

Title of the research project:

Development of highly effective microbial- based insecticides with extended host range and advances towards their integration in IPM

Description of the research project:

The application of chemical insecticides has been over the past 70 years the principal method for the control of insect that cause pests of agro-forestry importance or are vectors of diseases that affect animals including humans. However, the availability of effective compounds has become increasingly limited by the development of resistance in pest populations (APRD 2017; Whalon et al., 2008) and the removal of older broad-spectrum compounds from the marketplace (European Parliament Regulation (EC) 1107/2009). Additionally, public administrations have to reduce the use of chemical insecticides, both in agroforestry ecosystems and in urban environments, in response to public concerns regarding the presence of insecticide residues in food (Chandler et al. 2008) and urban spaces. Therefore, the objective of this project is to develop safe and effective microbial insecticides to combat: 1) the larvae of the genus Spodoptera (Lep; Noctuidae), which cause important pests in agri-food crops, and 2) the larvae of the mosquitoes Aedes albopictus, vector of dengue and other human diseases, and Phlebotomus perniciosus and P. papatasi, which are vectors of the causative agent of dog leishmaniasis. The total or partial achievement of this objective would contribute to the establishment of agricultural systems that produce safe and high-quality foodstuffs as well as to reduce or eliminate chemical pesticide residues in our urban environment.

Microbial-based insecticides represent effective alternatives to chemical pesticides for the control of insect that produce economic losses or transmit pathogens that cause disease in animals and people (Eberle et al 2012). To date, the penetration of global insecticide markets by microbial-based products has been restricted, mainly due to their host specificity (Ehlers 2011). We have recently developed novel molecular technologies, that have been protected by patent, and now allow us to design baculovirus- and bacteria-based insecticides with a broader host range, without the need to employ recombinant DNA technology. These technologies now make it possible to exploit our knowledge of the genetic diversity found in populations of viruses (baculovirus) and bacteria  (Bacillus thuringiensis) that affect wild populations of insects. From these findings (unpublished results from project AGL2014-57752-CO2 and AGL2015-70584-C02) the intention is to fine the composition of the active ingredient (AI) that exhibits a made-to-measure host range phenotype and the required insecticidal potency. This objective will be accomplished by constructing combinations of genotypic variants, from different baculovirus species or Bacillus thuringiensis strains, that will form the active ingredient for the enhanced product can be used to control simultaneously several insect pests. Each AI, selected for its insecticidal characteristics, will be formulated by the addition of ingredients that include ionic liquids/aqueous to preserve the infectivity of the insect pathogens in storage at ambient temperatures for at least one year.
This project is identified with two of the areas of specialization, "Agro-Food and Nutrition" and "Technologies for Health", defined in the Campus Iberus to enhance the economic growth and territorial development of the Ebro Valley. The candidate is expected to stay at BIOINSECTIS S.L. (CEIN, Noain) that will provide what is necessary to develop its activity

PHD Programme:


Public University of Navarra

Supervisor short biography:

Professor of Plant Production at the UPNA. He has made long stays at the University of Wageningen (Netherlands), the Institute of virology in Oxford (UK) and the University of Cardiff (UK). He is responsible for Crop Protection subjects at the UPNA and guest professor at master's degrees at the universities of Lleida and Complutense of Madrid. Project IP of the National R + D + i Plan, EU and private companies. He has been director of more than 25 doctoral theses, edited 4 books, co-author of more than 180 research articles and 10 patents on microbial insecticides. He has been Director of the Department of Agricultural Production (1999-08), President of the Spanish Society of Applied Entomology (2011-15) and Director of the Institute of Agrobiotechnology (2017-present). He has received the UPNA / BBVA award for his scientific career and the prize for the best transfer of research results. He has been the promoter of the creation of the company BIOINSECTIS (spin off of the UPNA).

Gross annual salary:

22.000-26.000 €

The employment contract in each recruiting institution will apply internal rules so final retribution might slightly differ.

Working hours:
37,5 hours a week

Full time