Aphids on a cotton plant.
Aphids: tiny insects that suck sap from plants and are a pest to agricultural crops including cotton. Photo: Lewis Wilson

Seeking partners to commercialise novel bio-pesticide with global potential

Published

Blue sky thinking by CRDC and Western Sydney University has uncovered a promising new plant-based compound for combatting common insect pests in cotton, horticulture and broadacre crops. A rare opportunity now exists for a commercial partner to further develop the early-stage biological pesticide with global market potential. 

Genetic modification of cotton plants – coupled with the adoption of Integrated Pest Management practices – has enabled Australian cotton growers to reduce their use of synthetic pesticides. But as agronomist and CRDC consultant Doug McCollum explained, pest control isn’t a ‘tick a box’ item.

“We see both long-term and seasonal change in the ecology of cotton fields, where things that were once a major problem fade into the background, but other pests pop up in their place,” explained Doug.

From regulatory changes, to insect resistance and market pressures from ecologically conscious consumers – the race is on to develop alternatives.

“CRDC knows we need to keep working in this area – creating Plan B's that protect our growers into the future,” said Doug.

Collaboration uncovers commercially cultivable native plant extract with excellent insecticidal activity

CRDC’s latest Plan B is a novel biopesticide compound that could revolutionise not just cotton pest control, but the entire global agricultural pesticides market. In partnership with Western Sydney University (WSU), CRDC has uncovered a plant extract which, in lab tests and an early field trial, show tremendous promise in controlling common crop insect pests.

“UWS looked at about 250 plant species – both native and exotic – and tested around 450 extracts to see whether they had insecticidal activity against key pest species,” explained Doug. “The ones which did were then tested for off-target traits like impacts on beneficial insect species and phytotoxic effects on the crop.”

What emerged was a commercially cultivable native plant compound – code named N68 – which shows excellent insecticidal activity in controlling cotton aphids (Aphis gossypii) as well as good activity on whitefly, thrips, two spotted mites, olive lace bug, diamondback moth, and Queensland fruit fly. The compound also has favourable off-target traits: low phytotoxicity, low impact on non-target organisms and a low eco-toxicological profile.

“The research actually uncovered more compounds that we could potentially look at later on,” added Doug.

The early indications are good, with WSU having already uncovered a simple, safe and economical method for extracting N68 from the plant. “This compound gives good insect control at relatively low concentrations,” explained Doug. “And because the compound can be cultivated on a commercial scale to produce and harvest the active metabolites, this increases the chances that it will be a commercially viable product in the future.”  

With the early legwork done, CRDC offers valuable opportunity for commercial partner to hit the ground running

CRDC is looking for a partner to run with the project from here, taking on the further testing needed to determine whether N68 is the next big thing in crop insect pest control.

With the typical research timeline from discovery to commercialisation taking anywhere up to ten years, CRDC offers prospective investors a real leg up in bringing a product to market sooner. And there’s a long list of potential benefits that will entice investors.

“Current testing suggests it’s a new mode of action for insect control,” said Doug. “From a resistance point of view, that would be a game changer, because it’s getting harder to find new synthetic compounds. N68 has already proven it is effective against resistant aphid populations.

“There’s huge commercial advantage in bringing out something that works differently to everything else on the market.”

Biological pesticides that have limited non-target effects, inherently pose a lower risk to human and environmental health. “This offers real advantages around consumer acceptability and regulation,” explained Doug. “If this product does end up in development, the approvals process will likely be quicker and cheaper than for a synthetic product, because you aren’t dealing with regulatory concerns around things like residues and withholding periods.”

And while it was initiated by the CRDC to find additional insect control options for cotton, this compound has a much broader application.

“It showed excellent activity on the cotton aphid. But researchers found good activity on species which aren’t pests in cotton, like the diamondback moth. That broadens N68’s market from just Australian cotton to vegetables and broadacre crops right across the world.”

CRDC casting the net wide in its search for commercial partner

A novel mode of action. Broad global application. Scalable plant-based compound. Consumer and regulatory acceptance. CRDC makes a compelling pitch to a commercial partner willing to take on the risks of this early stage, but overwhelmingly positive, research project.

“It will need to be a company that's got the resources required to do the further testing, the development and market opportunity work, and obtain regulatory approvals – resources that CRDC doesn’t have,” explained Doug.

“CRDC doesn’t want to limit the opportunity by being too prescriptive in who that partner might be,” he said. “They’re prepared to be flexible on what the commercial arrangement might look like – whether it’s an ongoing collaboration model, or the partner purchases the IP [currently jointly held by CRDC and WSU] or the licensing rights.

“All options are on the table. CRDC just really wants to see this technology in the hands of growers.”

Submissions to CRDC’s Expression of Interest Commercialisation of Novel Biopesticide N68 close on 22 July, 2022. Find more information on the commercial opportunity here.