University of Coimbra develops biodegradable protective bag to control plant parasitic nematodes

A group of researchers from the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC) is developing biodegradable films based on recycled paper, biodegradable polymers, and bionematocides (natural nematocides), in bag format, with the aim of protecting, at the moment from transplanting, the root system of plants from attack by root-knot nematodes, plant parasites that negatively affect agricultural production.

Developed within the scope of the project “ProBag – Plant Protection Bag: a new, practical and sustainable system for plant-parasitic nematodes management in conventional and family farming”, one of the winners of the competition “Projetos Sementes de Investigação” of the University of Coimbra (UC), this innovative, sustainable, practical and low-cost control strategy is still being optimized, but the results obtained are promising.

«We tried to find a control strategy that is sustainable since the existing and relatively effective ones are based on the use of chemical pesticides called nematocides, which for the most part have a negative impact on both the environment and human health», explains Carla Maleita, a researcher at the Research Center for Chemical Process Engineering and Forest Products (CIEPQPF) at FCTUC.

In this way, the researchers combined paper recycling with the use of biodegradable polymers and a bionematocide, derived from waste from the processing of walnut fruit, resulting in a biodegradable product, that is, with no negative impact on the environment. Therefore, ProBag will be used when transplanting plants such as tomatoes into the soil and it is expected that the release of the compound will occur, both inside and outside the bag.

«This will initially serve as a kind of barrier to the entrance of the parasites, but from the moment the bionematocide is released it starts to act on the organisms, causing their death and, in this way, the roots are protected», describes Carla Maleita, adding that «at the end of the culture this product will have been, totally or mostly, degraded by non-target organisms that are in the soil and physical factors, namely temperature and humidity».

Thus, it is possible to protect the plant in a period of adaptation to new conditions, in which it will be more susceptible, favoring its development so that, even if attacked by these organisms at a later stage, it has a greater capacity to respond to the presence of nematodes. «We have already carried out a preliminary test and concluded that the bags will have to be optimized in terms of degradation. However, none of the plants reproduced nematodes. Therefore, the results are promising», he assures.

“One of the next steps is to assess the impact of the ProBag on non-target soil organisms such as earthworms and how they contribute to bag degradation,” she says.

According to the team of researchers, this is a project that could have a positive impact on agricultural systems and, consequently, on the economy, as well as on the environment. “The impact will soon be on agriculture, because these parasites cause great damage in the agricultural sector, affecting the production of important crops. Thus, if we use sustainable strategies that allow its control at the time of planting, there is greater confidence that the productivity of the plants will increase», he believes.

On the other hand, «in general, the economy continues to turn favorably and we will reduce the impact on the environment because we are using “green” compounds», he concludes.

This project has the participation of researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering, CIEPQPF, the Department of Life Sciences, the Center For Functional Ecology (CFE), as well as the Centre’s Regional Directorate for Agriculture and Fisheries.

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