Chemical pesticides have long been used as pest control agents for human and plant protection. But a growing concern over the effects of these harmful substances, particularly their toxicity and unspecific mode of action, pushed scientists to explore much safer alternatives.

Qatar University (QU) researchers in collaboration with WHO Collaborating Center at the University of Montpellier, France, developed a wide range of biopesticides, produced naturally by nonpathogenic, friendly bacteria isolated from Qatar soil.

Biopesticides are natural molecules acting efficiently and specifically on the targeted pathogens. They are considered to be a safe alternative to chemical pesticides, as they are harmless to humans, the environment and food chains.

Leading the project is Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Biotechnology at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sc., College of Arts and Sciences (QU), Prof. Samir Jaoua who says, “The extensive use of chemical pesticides is very harmful to humans, animals and the environment due to the toxicity of these chemical substances. If we continue to use them, they will accumulate in the environment and cause several diseases to humans. In biological agriculture, for example, the use of these pesticides is not allowed.”

Prof. Samir intiated and has been working on the project along with his collaborators Dr. Roda Al-Thani, Ms. Dhabia Al-Thani, Mrs. Fatima Al-Yafei, Ms Abeer Al-Mohannadi, Dr Zahoor Ul Hassan, Prof. Quirico Migheli and QU PhD and MSc students Kavita Nair, Randa Zeidan and Reem Al-Asmar. This team, along with a number of other students, set up and produced different types of biopesticides, with the aim of potentially using them in regional bio-industries, “to protect the environment and save human and animal lives, while also efficiently and safely controlling pests and disease vectors,” says Dr. Samir.

Prof. Samir’s first collaborator Dr. Roda Al-Thani, Associate Professor of Microbiology in QU says, “This project, which is unique in the Gulf region, is very important as it contributes to the protection of the environment, health and safety. Our team has isolated from Qatar soil and investigated a collection of several hundreds of B. thuringiensis strains, which can be considered as an important gene bank of Qatari bacterial resources.” In fact, these strains can also be used for the production of many other biomolecules and biopharmaceuticals. The team discovered results showing that some of the B. thuringiensis strains produced antibiotic and anti-cancer molecules. Dr. Roda adds, “This is an excellent biotechnology project, with a very high quality and quantity of results that are very exploitable, at the industrial level.”

Prof. Samir believes that these research results, having been partly published in tens of publications, could be highly impactful, “We have been isolating and investigating bacterial strains from local Qatar soils and using microbiological and molecular tools to explore them and produce biomolecules of interest. The hundreds of bacterial strains that we have isolated from local soil in Qatar are adapted to this environment and to many similar environments in the world.”

Commenting on the particular perks of using Qatar soil, Prof. Samir says “Qatar soil is a source of microbial gene bank that can be used to produce a huge number of molecules of industrial interests. At QU’s College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, we have isolated a collection of more than 700 bacterial and fungal strains, all very friendly to the environment and producing many molecules of interest. This microbial biobank is a source of molecules that can initiate bioindustries in Qatar.”