Slow-release herbicides that minimize damage to water and soil, and a mild insecticide that has no effect on beneficial insects are both being developed in Israel.



Photo courtesy of Kobi Gideon/Flash90.
Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are developing new environmentally friendly crop protection technologies.

Two Israeli companies, Yissum Research Development Company the technology transfer arm of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Makhteshim Agan, a world leader in crop protection solutions, have signed an agreement to develop and commercialize environmentally-friendly crop protection technologies that will benefit agriculture and the environment the world over.

The first collaborative effort is for the development and commercialization of a novel methodology for producing a slow and controlled release of herbicides. The second involves a novel insecticidal preparation that kills caterpillars of night-flying moths, which are major pests of agriculture worldwide.

The innovative technique for slow-release herbicides will minimize herbicide contamination of soil and water. It was invented by Prof. Shlomo Nir and Dr. Yael Mishael from the Department of Soil and Water Sciences, and by Prof. Baruch Rubin, from the Institute of Plant Science and Genetics in Agriculture, all from the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

A healthier environment for humans and animals

The novel approach incorporates herbicides into micelles or vesicles, which are then absorbed onto negatively charged clay minerals. The special formulation enables a slow and controlled release of the herbicides, reducing leaching to deeper soil layers and contamination of soil and water. In addition, the herbicide is delivered close to its site of uptake, enhancing efficiency and reducing the required doses.

The total worldwide agricultural and non-crop herbicide market is valued at more than $15 billion, of which approximately a quarter is dedicated to soil-applied herbicides and other pesticides.

When announcing the collaboration with the Makhteshim Agan early this month, Yissum CEO Yaacov Michlin said: “While increasing crop yields, herbicides and pesticides have a host of unwanted effects on human health and on the ecology. Therefore, minimizing their use is an important step towards a healthier environment for humans and animals alike.”

The second collaboration involves a novel insecticidal preparation combining a proprietary Chitin Synthesis Inhibitor (CSI) and a pathogenic fungus that kills caterpillars of night-flying moths. Unlike common commercial preparations, the CSI, a mild insecticide, has minimal or no effect on non-target organisms and the fungus has no effect on beneficial insects.

Fungus attacks weakened caterpillars

It’s an approach that emphasizes a commitment to environmental responsibility, without compromising pest control. The insecticide relies on a strong synergism between the chemical and biological components involved, thereby greatly enhancing their effects. The CSI disrupts the production of cuticle (the insects’ external shield, which normally envelops and protects the insect body) so that the pathogenic fungus can easily attack the weakened caterpillars.

According to the university this means that very high levels of control can be achieved with much less CSI and fungus, minimizing environmental impact by reducing the insecticide component many-fold. Proof of concept was established in the Laboratory for Insect Physiology at the Hebrew University, by Prof. Shalom Applebaum and Ms. Dana Ichelczik.

“The Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture is developing groundbreaking bio-control and environmentally-friendly crop protection technologies. We welcome this partnership with Makhteshim Agan, a global giant in the field of crop protection…, ” Michlin said.

Founded in 1964, Yissum currently generates $1.2b. in annual sales from products based on Hebrew University technologies. Among Yissum’s business partners are Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Teva, Intel, IBM, Phillips, Syngenta, Vilmorin and Monsanto.

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