Fyteko: Committed to Producing Advanced Plant Biosolutions Based on Hydroxycinnamic Acid Derivative Oligomers at Large Scale
May. 10, 2021
“Fyteko is the only company worldwide producing hydroxycinnamic acid derivative oligomers at large scale, starting from biobased raw materials, and using an eco-friendly procedure. The production process is water based and doesn’t require the use of any harsh chemical. This innovative biomolecule is delivered in plants through different engineered formulations to ensure maximal efficacy in field conditions,” said Dr Juan Carlos Cabrera, Co-founder & CTO of Fyteko in a recent interview with AgroPages.
He also shared his views on biostimulant products and special features of Fyteko, plans to develop new products, challenges of biostimulant formulations & solutions, as well as the market prospects etc.
Dr Juan Carlos Cabrera
Co-founder & CTO of Fyteko
AgroPages: Could you briefly introduce Fyteko and the team's background?
Established in 2014 by bio-entrepreneurs Guillaume Wegria and Dr Juan Carlos Cabrera, Fyteko is a committed climate-smart company, focused on the development of advanced plant biosolutions.
At Fyteko, we’re not just guided by science. We’re creating the science. The team is rooted with scientific backgrounds (chemists, biochemists, bioengineers, agronomists and plant biologists).
Our science is inspired by nature. If you know where to look, nature often has its own solution. And in our case, nature’s helping to challenge the world of crop protection products.
In developing our products, we went back to square one: what would nature do? We found the answer in signal molecules: we con cluded with a patent that defines a fully identifiable mode of action for biostimulant development. Today our first product is a biostimulant, but our biosynthesis technology has the ability to generate other new biomolecules. Our original research develops and refines our products to deliver tangible, realistic benefits – clearly defined, extensively proven.
Dr Juan Carlos Cabrera, Co-founder & CTO of Fyteko (left);
Guillaume Wegria, Co-Founder & CEO of Fyteko (right)
AgroPages: Could you introduce Fyteko’s biostimulant products and special features, mode of action, and its innovation and application value? What are the plan to develop new products?
Fyteko’s biostimulant products are based on hydrocinnamic acid oligomers, which are part of plant’s own cell wall structure. Cell walls surround all plant cells, and during abiotic stress, they are one of the first organ impacted. Even though the structural function of hydroxycinnamic acid oligomers in the plant cell wall is known, Fyteko demonstrated for the first time and patented its use as a natural biostimulant. Indeed, the exogenous application of these biomolecules on crops can improve agronomic efficiency. In short, nature inspired us to find a solution: our unique patent-protected approach ‘primes’ plants to be ready to deal with environmental changes such as extremes of temperature and droughts.
Based on hydrocinnamic acid oligomers, Fyteko has developed a range of products: Nurspray (Foliar spray), Nurseed (Seed Treatment) and Nursoil (Soil Drench - Fertirrigation).
While the vast majority of commercial biostimulants are based on a mixture of different molecules of variable composition; the active ingredient developed by Fyteko is a single molecule, with a well-defined structure. This natural product is a pre-activator of various metabolic pathways dealing with a better tolerance to abiotic stress conditions.
Unlike extracts with a mix of untargeted molecules, Fyteko's single molecule removes all potential interferences and enables a more precise observation of the protective roles and modulation of signalling networks in crops. This has allowed Fyteko to fully identify the mode of action in the induction of natural responses related to plant stress, clearly establishing causal effect.
In addition, Fyteko’s formulation are engineered as agrochemicals in order to improve robustness and efficacy of the hydrocinnamic acid oligomers. They are stable on the long term and don’t require specific storage requirements.
Having a single active ingredient confers a lot of advantage in term of compatibility when positioning the product in conventional agriculture treatment scheme. Nurspray if fully tank-mix compatible with pesticides or foliar fertilisers. Nurseed is compatible with all agrochemicals used in slurry and improve their application on seeds. Nursoil can be mixed in fertirrigation or drip systems without provoking any clogging issues.
Mode of action (MOA)
When applied to crops, this active ingredient triggers the response to hydric or heat stress, just as the plant’s own signalling molecules would have done under adverse conditions. In this way, Fyteko’s signal molecule pre-activates or directly triggers plant response before the stress occurs, enabling better tolerance and recovery, and protecting yield. Applied before abiotic stress, the molecule enables the plant to react as if stress is occurring, and naturally activate its survival strategies. The plant will retain 'memory' of this activation as it is an epigenetic mechanism. Epigenetic memory in plants refers to the changes in patterns of gene expression that occur without alterations in DNA sequence. The stress stimulation triggered by Fyteko’s signal molecule activates the plant's epigenetic memory and will render it more resilient to subsequent environmental stress. When a heatwave or drought occurs, the plant will have a higher osmoprotectants content, and will be able to produce osmoprotectants faster, which help to withstand adverse conditions.
Fyteko’s R&D started measuring plant internal metabolites such as Proline and Antioxidants as they play important roles in plants’ response to abiotic stress. These solutes provide protection to plants from stress by contributing to cellular osmotic adjustment, ROS detoxification, protection of membrane integrity and enzymes/protein stabilization. From this stage a clear link was established between the application of hydrocinnamic acid oligomers and increase of protecting internal metabolites.
Then to validate this MOA, Fyteko works at different level starting at transcriptomic level (mRNA level changes), specific enzymes activation (biochemical measurements) and metabolites profiling (metabolome analysis). This process starts with a cascade of reactions that reprogram genetic expression and change metabolic content in the plant cells. Fyteko has scientific evidence that hydrocinnamic acid oligomers application on plants increase proline and other osmo-protectants content, modulate of the activity of ROS detoxifying enzymes and increase accumulation of antioxidants metabolites, giving the crops better resistance to abiotic stress.
Fyteko is the only company worldwide producing hydroxycinnamic acid derivative oligomers at large scale, staring from biobased raw materials, and using an eco-friendly procedure. The production process is water based and doesn’t require the use of any harsh chemical. This innovative biomolecule is delivered in plants through different engineered formulations to ensure maximal efficacy in field conditions.
NURSPRAY: signal biomolecule foliar spray formulation to be applied with agrochemicals (rate of use 1L/ha in tank mix with fertilisers or pesticides). Effective as from 24 hours after application. Nurspray is particularly effective on Legume crops. Depending on the crops and environmental stress faced during crops’ life cycle, average final yield gains are in the 5 to 10 % gain in average.
NURSPRAYHC: signal biomolecule highly concentrated aqueous formulation for intensive row crops (rate of use 0,2L/ha in tank mix with fertilisers or pesticides). Yielding similar results than Nurspray if used in tank mix already containing adjuvants.
NURSEEDHC: seed treatment solution to be mixed in slurry (rate 0,1L/100Kg seeds), specifically designed for use in row crops. Nurseed will enhance plant germination and seedling establishment under heat and water stress with long-lasting impact, resulting in higher recovered yields (1 to 5% average gains depending on crops and environmental conditions).
NURSEEDMAX: Based on the same signal biomolecule as NURSEED®, NURSEED®MAX contains co-formulants that enhance its effects and enable its use on high value vegetables. NURSEED®MAX is compatible with seed film-coating in precision application of color pigments, plant protection products, beneficial microorganisms and other biologicals (rate of use 10 mL/Kg).
NURSOIL: A soil-drench solution to reach plant roots (in development).
Plan to develop new products
Currently, Fyteko’s R&D team is developing others ground-breaking products for agricultural use based on this innovative biosynthesis platform. Using safe and sustainable inputs and our novel bio-based technology, our aim is always to develop new active ingredients. In these developments, Fyteko is working in collaboration with commercial partners, universities and research institutions with whom we share common goals and objectives.
Fyteko is also participating in collaborative research programs and was recently awarded an important European Horizon 2020 funding (EIC accelerator NURSPRAY Grant agreement ID: 953636) to help progress breakthroughs and discoveries from the lab to the market.
AgroPages: How can biostimulants be used to give the best returns, for instance, right climatic conditions, equipment or technology support, or any other specific requirement for use of these products?
Best use of biostimulants requires a deep knowledge of the mechanism of action of the product, as well as the physiological response of the target crop to stress conditions. The beneficial effect on yields due to the application of biostimulants is highly dependent on the way the plant activates its tolerance mechanisms after perceiving the active(s) component(s) of the product; but also, the intensity and frequency of the environmental stressing factors and the physiological state of the plant.
Biostimulant products are first developed under controlled conditions (evaluating the response of model plants under simulated stress conditions) and subsequently, most promising candidates are evaluated under real field conditions. The assessment of the performance in real conditions is the most important stage of development of the biostimulant. At this stage, it is important to identify in which conditions the selected crop will respond best to the application of the product. Many and accurate experimental data are needed under similar field conditions to correctly map the response of the crop under different types and intensity of abiotic stress. This study is essential to select the right time to apply the product, to define the dose and frequency of application, and above all, to define how the product can provide benefits to the crop under environmental conditions, often difficult to predict.
Today, new satellite technologies are allowing more accurate prediction of climate change, even on a local level. The spectacular development of robotics and sensor technology is making these technologies more accessible to farmers. Unquestionably, these advances will help in a significant way to insert the use of biostimulants in agricultural practices, helping to significantly reduce the environmental impact of agricultural practices.
On our side, we strategically focus on some key crops to fully understand crops response, farmers practices/expectations to develop our products accordingly. Compatibility studies performed and window of application being well defined, we are now also making large scale demos and registrations in Europe, North and Latin America. Climate-led occurrences are expected to become more frequent and more pronounced as climate change evolves. We are convinced that the use of such sustainable products will become recurrent in order to protect the world’s crops from abiotic stress and ensure global food security.
AgroPages: What's the challenge of biostimulant formulation? What's the biggest difference from other agri-inputs like traditional pesticides/biopesticides etc? What do you think of the role of adjuvants in biostimulant development?
Formulation science is as crucial for biostimulants as it is for conventional crop protection products. Formulation is crucial in determining the performance of a bioactive molecule in real conditions (fields). A marketable agricultural formulation is generally composed of at least two major components, the active ingredient (a bioactive molecule or combination of bioactive molecules showing additive or synergistic effects) and adjuvant(s). Adjuvants are “inert components” helping to improve the properties of the formulation: wetting, spreading, rain-fastness and persistence of the active ingredient(s) on the leaf surface; promote the rate of uptake and time stability of the bioactive molecules but also maintaining long shelf-life.
Some commercial companies developing biostimulants understand only "formulation development" as the combination of active molecules of different origins, and the adjuvant aspect is rarely addressed. Different factors have conditioned this situation:
- Adjuvancy is a complex topic, requiring specialized and costly laboratory equipment but also time and trial/error experiments.
- The legislation of some countries is unclear about the presence of adjuvants in biostimulant products. This often implies additional complexity for product registration.
- Adding an adjuvant could represents an important cost in a sector where prices are relatively low and with high market pressure.
- It is a common practice to apply biostimulants in the tank mix in combination with other agrochemicals already providing adjuvants for the application.
In addition, some adjuvants have been reported to have numerous negative health effects in humans and on the environment. However, in recent years, companies specialized in adjuvant development have long invested to develop risk-free, natural derived or bio-based adjuvants. Currently, a considerable number of this new generation of eco-friendly adjuvants can be found on the market.
At Fyteko, from the beginning of the development of our biostimulants, we were aware of the importance of the formulation. In collaboration with specialized research centres and universities and using the advanced technological capacity of our own laboratories, we have developed cutting-edge formulations with optimal chemical physical properties, using biobased components and allowing to deliver effectively our active biomolecules in plants.
AgroPages: What market regions is Fyteko focusing on now?
Today, Fyteko is mainly focusing on legume crops (soybean, peas, beans, …) were our product show significant results. Given the size of the company we can’t go everywhere at once. Products are registered in most of EU countries and in Ukraine. They are under registration process in USA, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay.
Fyteko’s business mode
Fyteko produces and sells Nurspray, to distributors who will then deliver it to end-users. These distributors have existing brand recognition, networks and channels to sell the products in their markets (national or group of countries). On the other hand, Nurseed is only sold to seed companies, which apply Fyteko’s product on their seeds before selling them via their usual distribution channels. In all cases, Fyteko currently works both with SMEs and large corporations.
Plan to extend new markets
The idea is to follow this crop focused strategy, moving in a second stage to vegetables (also showing good results) and expand geography accordingly.
AgroPages: What are the main challenges you face? And how do you address them?
Registrations and Time to market: Though it is changing, Biostimulants are known as being easier to register in some countries. But with lighter registration process, the client needs to be assured of the product’s efficacy before committing to it. This can therefore lead to at least 2-to-3-year evaluation process. To address these challenges we adapted our strategy, by focusing developments on key crops and registering the products ourselves rather than relying only on distribution partners. We also started our own field trials in the Southern hemisphere and in the US to demonstrate in large scale our product’s performance with the aim to reduce the time to market as much as possible.
AgroPages: What do you think of the market prospects of biostimulants in different market regions?
In row crops, from our experience we see more yield gains in extensive farming. In addition, extensive farming is often corelated with regions where there is more climate stress. It is the case in Latin America but also Eastern Europe. Regions where farmers don’t have the possibility to invest a lot in inputs and where the shift to “bio-agriculture” or “organic agriculture” as we define it in Europe is not going to happen at short term. That is why, Fyteko’s focus on developing biostimulants that fit conventional agriculture practice (compatibility, ease of use, price, …). That’s how we aim to play a key role in today’s global ecological transition.
Established in 2014 by bio-entrepreneurs Guillaume Wegria and Dr Juan Carlos Cabrera, Fyteko is a committed climate-smart company, focused on the development of advanced plant biostimulants. Fyteko produces safe, sustainable input solutions to increase and optimise crop yields worldwide, using signal bio molecules.
These new biomolecules can help not only protect crops against the effects of abiotic stress, such as drought, but increase yields, too. The unique technology synthesises signal molecules found within the plant itself, ‘priming’ it to respond more effectively when faced with external stress.
As well as solving previously intractable problems such as stress relief, Fyteko expects its planned range of ‘bio-based’ agrimolecules will not only help to improve the efficiency of existing agrochemical actives but also reduce farmers’ reliance on them: healthier crops have less need for intervention treatments. More efficient crop production and fewer pesticides, for a more sustainable agriculture, are the twin goals for European agtech start-up Fyteko.”
Tel: +32(0)2 372 04 09
This interview will be published in AgroPages '2021 Formulation & Adjuvant Technology' magazine to be published this May.
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