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Replacing chemical fungicides with innovative, cost-effective plant-based solutions, to cut food waste and carbon emissions and enhance food security

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AgroStore (Replacing chemical fungicides with innovative, cost-effective plant-based solutions, to cut food waste and carbon emissions and enhance food security)

Reporting period: 2021-02-01 to 2022-01-31

The human population is continuously growing, and more food has to be produced to feed this population. Fungal pathogens (moulds) are one of the key causes of food waste along the supply chain. The key strength of fungal pathogens is linked to their fast adaptation to treatments and the broad variety of fungal species that can infect a given plant. These factors make it challenging to develop efficient broad-spectrum fungicides with high efficacy and no harmful impact on the environment.

A renowned global fungicide market report, Markets and Markets 2020, indicates that in 2019 the fungicide market was estimated to have a value of USD 18.3 BN and the market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 4.6%, to reach a value of USD 24 BN by 2025. The growing demand for fungicides can be explained by increasing agricultural activities and the demand for high-quality agricultural produce. Today, the fungicide market is basically divided between four companies: BASF SE (Germany), ChemChina (China), Corteva, Inc. (US) and Bayer AG (Germany).

As a consequence, most of these companies mainly focus on the development of highly effective synthetic fungicides that can be applied throughout plant growth. However, an increasing pressure from the public and from governments, to ban the use of chemical pesticides that might harm human health and biodiversity started during the last decade. These pressures are contributing to the development of novel sustainable treatments. Alternatives, existing on the market, are biological (identified and extracted from living organisms) fungicides that leave no residues on food and have no negative impact on the environment and safeguard human well-being. However, the development of biological fungicides is still in its nascency and will requires additional research to create fungicides that are not only environmentally friendly, but also effective and efficient (i.e. avoiding multiple product re-applications). Based, on the global natural fungicide market report from Mordor Intelligence, 2020, the market of biological fungicides was valued at USD 1.28 BN in 2018 and is expected to reach a value of USD 2.9 BN by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 15.6% during the forecast period.

All the above-mentioned facts create significant opportunities for new biological fungicides, that should be as effective as currently available synthetic products, while lacking harmful residues on top of the crops and staying affordable for food producers. Based on current available data, AgroSustain’s products will fulfill environmental-friendly criteria and hence will have an interesting future in the large fungicide market.

In the present project, we aim at developing environmentally friendly fungicides from a biological or natural (identified from the living organism, large scale production done by chemical synthesis) origin that are in line with a sustainable agriculture. In more details, we focus on:
- The upscaling, formulation and field testing of a first natural fungicide of AgroSustain, i.e. a combination of glucosinolate derivatives, that are produce by plants of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae).
The screening and development of biological fungicides (extract from marine organisms) pipeline, including their upscaling, formulation and initiation of the certification process.
During more than five years of R&D activities, AgroSustain has developed a pipeline of sixty plant-derived antifungal compounds that were identified through a combination of two disciplines: plant pathology & analytical chemistry. By performing a detailed analysis of each compound, AgroSustain’s team built the foundation of its first natural fungicide composed of two active ingredients (AI) from glucosinolate derivatives identified in well-known plants that are broadly present in the human diet – the Brassicaceae (cabbage) family (Dubey et al., 2020a,b; https://doi.org/10.1094/PHYTOFR-08-20-0010-R; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plaphy.2020.02.026).

Since the begging of this project, AgroSustain’s team performed several efficacy trials in collaboration with Agroscope - the Swiss center of excellence for agricultural research. The work was done in the green houses, as well as in the fields, on grapevine and wheat aiming to test efficacy of the formulated AIs of AgroSustain. Targeted fungal pathogens were respectively broadly present biotrophic fungal pathogens, such as downy mildew and several rusts that are known to cause severe losses of crops in the fields.

The main goal of this work was to optimize the application of our formulated fungicide and test its effectiveness in the field. Results are promising (Figure 1) and revealed that our fungicide is not only efficient in in vitro conditions but also in the field. However, more tests in the field need to be performed in spring and summer 2022 to further optimized its application aiming to increase product efficacy by testing additional formulations.

In addition to efficacy trials, AgroSustain’s team was working on the optimization of the upscale production for its natural fungicide, aiming to obtain price in line with the currently available solutions on the crop protection market. Following to the latest developments in the upscale production we pinpointed that the waste generated by some steps of the chemical synthesis need to be reduced through an optimization of the reactions. This work will be conducted in Q2 2022 with the help of specialized companies in the organic synthesis.

On a separate note, AgroSustain’s R&D team continue setting up platform for identification of the biological fungicides. That permitted us to identify two extracts from marine organisms with strong in vitro and in vivo antifungal properties on various pathogenic species (Figure 2). In-depth physico-chemical characterization of these extracts revealed the new compounds responsible for the antifungal properties that are currently being patented. Ongoing research are focusing on upscaling the production of the source organisms, optimizing the extraction of active compounds, as well as formulating the extract. Figure 3 illustrates a formulation (coating) developed by AgroSustain that act as a physical barrier to pathogens into which can be integrated our biological fungicides.
Chemical fungicides are currently widely used in the agricultural industry with many of these products having detrimental effects on human and animal health, as well as on the environment overall. Despite efforts to develop biological protection, very few efficient solutions are available on the market. For this reason, there are still no effective environmentally friendly methods of combatting fungal pathogens that infect a large number of crops. The present project aims at filling this gap by developing efficient biological fungicides in line with a sustainable future. Indeed, it is urgent to drastically reduce the negative side effects of synthetic pesticides on the environment. As a consequence, the potential impact of our project has to be considered as of major importance.
Grapevine leaves after infection with P. viticola (A), carrots after infection with A. radicina (B)
Grapevine leaves after infection with P. viticola (A), carrots - with A. radicina (B), tomatoes -
Strawberry leaves infected with C. gloeosporioides (A) and grapevine leaves 2 weeks after infection