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High potential biologicals, related technologies registered, launched in 2023 and future prospectsqrcode

Feb. 15, 2024

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Feb. 15, 2024

The market for biologicals has been a key focus of agrochemical giants and attracts small and medium-sized enterprises, which aim to advance their businesses in this area through their innovations. 

What major categories of biologicals were launched by the giants in 2023? What biological product registered in 2023 was the first of its kind in the world? And what were the highlights in terms of related technologies? This article will reveal the answers, as well as the prospects of these new technologies.

Microbial pesticides, a key focus of giants

Corteva Agriscience, Syngenta, FMC and UPL launched many biological products, reported on AgroPages in 2023, among which microbial pesticides account for around half. Their active ingredients are either one microbial strain or a mixture of different components.

The active ingredients in single-component products include Beauveria bassiana, Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus velezensis. There are three products containing Beauveria bassiana: UPL's Tackler, launched in Brazil to combat whitefly (Bemisia tabaci), corn leafhopper (Dalbulus maidis), pinworm (Diabrotica speciosa), coffee berry borer (Hypotenemus hampei) and sugarcane weevil (Sphenophorus levis), effective throughout the entire life cycle from nymphs to adults; also launched in Brazil, Corteva's Tezpetix Beauve, used for controlling corn leafhopper (Dalbulus maidis, one of the major corn pests), Bemisia tabaci, Dichelops melacanthus, Euschistus heros, and Hypothenemus hampei; and Syngenta's ARBIOGY launched in Italy to fight against thrips, mites, leafhoppers, mealybugs and fruit flies. One of the Bacillus subtilis based pesticides is FMC India's ENTAZIA, which activates crop’s defense systems against plant leaf blight, one of the most serious diseases that affect rice. Another Bacillus subtilis based product is UPL’s BIOBAC, a bionematicide and soil disease control solution. Products containing Bacillus velezensis include ARVATICO and CERTANO, both launched by Syngenta in Brazil. ARVATICO can be used as a bionematicide, while CERTANO offers nematicidal, fungicidal and plant growth promoting effects for sugarcane.

Other new microbial pesticides launched by the giants contain different strains or mixtures of strains with chemical active ingredient, to enhance efficacy. UPL launched Nimaxxa in Brazil based on Bacillus subtilis strain CH4000 and Bacillus paralicheniformis strains CH0273 and CH2970, which are used to combat the harmful nematodes, Heterodera glycines, Meloidogyne incognita and Pratylenchus brachyurus. FMC launched two products, Provilar and Ataplan, both containing Bacillus velezensis strain RTI301 and Bacillus subtilis strain RTI477. Provilar was developed to control leaf spot and white mold, and Ataplan combats key soil-borne fungi, such as Fusarium, Rhizoctonia and Colletotrichum, for the Brazilian market. In addition to these pure biologicals, FMC launched a pesticide, Ethos Elite LFR, which combine bifenthrin and their proprietary Bacillus velezensis strain RTI301 and Bacillus subtilis strain RTI477, to protect plants from both early-season diseases and soilborne insect pests.

Novel biological product received world's first registration, starting a new era of crop protection

A biological product that is first of its kind has been registered, providing farmers with a whole new option to combat pests.

Ledprona, the world’s first sprayable RNA biopesticide, was registered in the United States in 2023 for controlling Colorado potato beetle (CPB), a major pest of potato crops in North America, Europe and Asia. Such pests have developed resistance to 52 active ingredients across all major insecticide classes 1. Farmers urgently need biopesticides with novel modes of action for the effective control of CPB. Ledprona, developed by GreenLight Biosciences, contains double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) which, once ingested by Colorado potato beetles, inhibits the expression of the gene encoding for the PSMB5 protein which is vital to the survival of this pest. It is classified as IRAC MoA group 35. Ledprona is highly target specific, meaning that it only affects CPB and is not hazardous to beneficial insects. In addition, Ledprona degrades within days in the environment, leaving no harmful residue on plants or in the environment.

GreenLight Biosciences’ Calantha, a foliar bioinsecticide based on Ledprona, was registered by the US EPA. The company claims that the product’s crop protection efficacy is comparable to standard chemical insecticides. As the product must be ingested to take effect, it is ineffective against pest eggs and its optimal performance is against small larvae (L1-L2), while some sublethal effect can be seen in adults. After ingestion, feeding is expected to cease within 48 hours. Even if Calantha does not kill all CPBs, protecting leaves from being fed by the pest makes the product as effective as standard insecticides for crop protection. Its active ingredient is effective at a use-rate of a few grams per acre, much lower than most insecticides in the market. Moreover, it is convenient to apply the product using common spraying equipment. 

Calantha is currently undergoing regulatory evaluation for registration in other regions of the world.  

Formulation and delivery technologies enhance efficacy of biological products

Groundbreaking formulation technologies and delivery systems play a key role in protecting active ingredients in biologicals, enhancing their efficacy and use efficiency in the field, and making their application more flexible and convenient.

Rovensa Next launched a natural broad-spectrum insecticide, Tec-Fort, which is based on pyrethrins, in Peru. Unlike other pyrethrins-based products, Tec-Fort utilizes patented Promicell technology to protect the pyrethrins in the formulation and extend their efficacy in the field. The product is a combination of pyrethrins with various antioxidants, adjuvants and other natural ingredients, formulated as a stable concentrate. When the product is mixed with the amount of water required for its correct application in the field, micelles are formed and encapsulate the pyrethrins. These micelles refract ultraviolet rays, therefore, protecting the pyrethrins from rapid degradation by sunlight. As Tec-Fort is not photosensitive, it can be applied at any time of the day to cause a powerful shock effect after coming into contact with pests. In addition, Promicell prevents phytotoxicity, as it improves dose homogeneity and stability.

Meristem Crop Performance unveiled its next generation patented delivery system, Bio-Capsule Technology, which helps keep microbes vigorous for their effective application. The Bio-Capsule Technology Planter Box Delivery System is a packaging system for carrying and dispensing various biologicals into a seed lubricant blend, with the addition of micronutrients. The Bio-Capsule technology keeps microbes separate from seed lubricants and micronutrients before field application, to preserve microbial viability. Improvements have been made to the next generation of the delivery system, such as a bigger pail for six potential Bio-Capsules to carry more technologies, and bigger Bio-Capsules that provide more space for microbes to reduce clumping or sticking, and others.



Next Generation Bio-Capsule Technology: Ingredients, such as micronutrients stay on the bottom of the pail; Bio-Capsules on top of the pail hold different microbial strains; microbes can be released by pushing the plunger; then microbes can be mixed with other ingredients on the bottom by shaking the pail. (Source: Meristem Crop Performance)

Croda launched their first delivery system, Atlox BS-50, for the biopesticide market, to improve wettability and dispersibility without affecting spore viability. According to Croda, the product is easy to use, as the microbe can simply be added to complete the final product, which shortens formulation development time. The components of Atlox BS-50 have been optimized by Croda to perform at the highest level of efficacy, and viability tests have been carried out to guarantee its compatibility with common microbes and versatility for application.

Future prospects

The microbes used in the biopesticides launched by the agrochemical giants in 2023 are common fungal and bacterial species in the market. These biopesticides benefit plants by competing for nutrients with pests, producing antibiotic metabolites, activating plants’ natural defenses against pests, and through other means. These microbes are expected to remain popular in the biologicals market for years to come.

Moreover, the increasing use of combined microbes and chemical pesticides is a major trend for more sustainable crop protection. Microbes and chemicals complement each other and have a synergic effect. Compared to chemicals, microbial pesticides have a slower effect but also have a much lower risk of resistance development and are safer to the environment and human health. Therefore, this combined use can enhance the efficacy on pest control, assist in resistance management, and reduce the negative effects of crop production on the environment and human health. The giants are continuously improving their biological solutions and recommend using them together with their world-leading chemical products, to achieve sustainability in food production.

Apart from microbial pesticides, emerging RNA biopesticides also offer certain advantages. For example, like beneficial microbes, RNA is environmentally-friendly, and such products are highly target-specific and do not harm non-target organisms. It is also convenient to apply sprayable RNA biopesticides to crops.

The registration approval of RNA biopesticides by the US EPA in 2023 began a new era of crop protection, and more products will enter the market in the future. GreenLight Biosciences plans to introduce more RNA insecticides, acaricides, fungicides and herbicides. Its BioPropel, used for controlling fall armyworms and other Lepidoptera pests, is expected to be registered in 2024, while Vadescana, used against Varroa mites, is expected to be registered in 2024/2025. Other products in their pipeline will target mildew, Fusarium, thrips, horseweed and other pests, and will receive first approval in the near future.

RNA interference (RNAi) technology can effectively combat pests, but there are still challenges in applying RNAi to crop protection, one of which is the production cost of RNA. The price of one gram of RNA used to be US$10,000, too expensive for field application. Subsequently, fermentation technology was developed that significantly reduced production costs, making the application of RNA possible on crops. However, fermentation process produces not only RNA but also other components, and it is difficult to separate RNA from them.

GreenLight Biosciences’ RNA production technology is more efficient. According to the company, its production process takes place in large vat containing nucleosides, the building blocks of RNA derived from yeast fermentation byproducts, and uses plasmids to provide assembly instructions for RNA production. The process is catalyzed by enzymes produced by E. coli. The company pointed out that its production is estimated to be 10 times faster than fermentation, requiring around 3 hours per batch as opposed to about 30. It is also cheaper and produces a purer RNA product.

GreenLight Biosciences plans to expand its production capacity and reduce product prices to meet the market demand. The company’s RNA production capacity has reached 500 kg/year, with the potential to expand to 1000 kg/year. As more RNA biopesticides are registered and enter markets in the future, growers’ demand is expected to increase, prompting the company to plan further capacity expansions. GreenLight Biosciences aims for their dsRNA products to cost less than a dollar per gram and have a two-year shelf life at 25°C.

However, compared to many chemical products, biologicals, such as microbial pesticides and RNA biopesticides, still have issues, such as being more vulnerable to environmental conditions and having lower stability. Therefore, biological pesticides have a higher requirement for relevant technologies to protect their active ingredients. The growth of the biologicals market is outpacing the chemicals market, leading to increasing demand for formulation technologies and delivery systems for biological crop solutions. Biologicals companies can improve the competitiveness of their products by leveraging the power of related technologies. And the developers of formulation and delivery technologies can take advantage of opportunities in the expanding biologicals market, and build more strategic partnerships with biologicals companies.

1 Alyokhin, A., Baker, M., Mota-Sanchez, D., Dively, G., and Grafius, E. (2008). Colorado potato beetle resistance to insecticides. Am. J. Potato Res. 85, 395–413. doi: 10.1007/s12230-008-9052-0

This article will be published in AgroPages magazine Annual Review 2023.


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