Pest control is on a precipice. Harmful bugs have become increasingly resistant to insecticides. Meanwhile, misuse of the same treatments are threatening beneficial insects that we need to help protect and pollinate our crops.
Fortunately, a collaboration between CSIRO researchers and an innovative Australian company could help to turn over a new leaf.
An Australian eucalypt is the source of a new insecticide produced by Australian agtech company Bio-Gene Technology Ltd.
Flavocide, which is going through the regulatory process before being granted approval for on-farm use, targets agricultural insect pests and disease-spreading mosquitoes, but promises to be safer for bees and other key beneficial insects.
Some years ago, the founders of the Australian agtech company, Bio-Gene Technology Ltd, began searching for unique insecticidal compounds contained in Australian plants which led them to a unique eucalyptus variety that contains an effective pest-fighting class of chemicals: beta-triketones. These natural compounds have evolved to be markedly different from existing insecticides. They kill unwanted pests like mosquitoes, flies and ticks in a unique way, with minimal impact on bees and other beneficial insects.
Bio-Gene recognised that these compounds could play a vital role in pest management. But they knew it would take sophisticated research infrastructure and expertise to harness their potential.
Peter May is the Executive Director of Research and Development at Bio-Gene. He said natural extraction is possible for some beta-triketone compounds, but chemical synthesis is more cost-effective for others. This is important for large-scale production and deployment.
"We knew that synthesis would be necessary to achieve our vision, but we needed help. Given CSIRO's reputation, state-of-the-art labs and top scientists, we knew they were the perfect partner," Mr May said.
Adam Meyer, CSIRO Principal Research Scientist and project leader, said the process wasn't straight-forward.
"We went through four distinct projects, refining and improving the processes and product with each phase over five years," Dr Meyer said.
"The end result was a brand-new bio-identical product dubbed 'Flavocide™', and a synthesis process that was safe, cost-effective and positioned for large-scale manufacture."
For the Bio-Gene team, one of the project's greatest achievements was finding a way to recover and reuse a significant raw material in the manufacturing process.
"Through recycling, the CSIRO team demonstrated we could recover over 80 per cent of this key ingredient thus improving the sustainability of the process and significantly reducing production costs," Peter said.
The new mode of action addresses insecticide resistance, which happens when insects evolve ways to counteract known treatments.
"Pests have never encountered this sort of insecticide which means Flavocide will work where other solutions are failing," Mr May said.
- For the full-length article go to the CSIRO website.