Hype or opportunity? Using microbial symbionts in novel strategies for insect pest control

J Insect Physiol. 2017 Nov;103:10-17. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2017.09.011. Epub 2017 Sep 30.


All insects, including pest species, are colonized by microorganisms, variously located in the gut and within insect tissues. Manipulation of these microbial partners can reduce the pest status of insects, either by modifying insect traits (e.g. altering the host range or tolerance of abiotic conditions, reducing insect competence to vector disease agents) or by reducing fitness. Strategies utilizing heterologous microorganisms (i.e. derived from different insect species) and genetically-modified microbial symbionts are under development, particularly in relation to insect vectors of human disease agents. There is also the potential to target microorganisms absolutely required by the insect, resulting in insect mortality or suppression of insect growth or fecundity. This latter approach is particularly valuable for insect pests that depend on nutrients from symbiotic microorganisms to supplement their nutritionally-inadequate diet, e.g. insects feeding through the life cycle on vertebrate blood (cimicid bugs, anopluran lice, tsetse flies), plant sap (whiteflies, aphids, psyllids, planthoppers, leafhoppers/sharpshooters) and sound wood (various xylophagous beetles and some termites). Further research will facilitate implementation of these novel insect pest control strategies, particularly to ensure specificity of control agents to the pest insect without dissemination of bio-active compounds, novel microorganisms or their genes into the wider environment.

Keywords: Bacteriocyte; Microbiome; Paratransgenesis; Symbiocide; Symbiosis.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Insect Control / methods*
  • Insecta / microbiology*
  • Insecta / parasitology
  • Symbiosis