IMB researchers are creating change for the agricultural industry with a new alternative to traditional pesticides.

Professor David Craik partnered with family-run Australian company Innovate Ag on an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project to further develop and characterise the active constituents in a unique natural pesticide derived from the Butterfly Pea plant.

The New South Wales-based company and Professor Craik’s research team combined their expertise in practical product development and fundamental research to develop a game-changing bio-pesticide, Sero-X®.

The secret behind this innovative product comes straight from nature itself in the form of cyclotides.

Cyclotides are peptides, or mini-proteins, that are naturally found in plants and have a diverse range of biological activities, including anti-HIV, antimicrobial, and insecticidal activities.

Professor Craik and his research team study natural cyclotides and engineer new cyclotides that can be used as insecticides or to treat diseases.

“Innovate Ag’s product uses an extract from the Butterfly Pea plant that contains cyclotides."

“Innovate Ag’s product uses an extract from the Butterfly Pea plant that contains cyclotides,” Professor Craik said.

“We’ve been working with Innovate Ag to understand which cyclotides in the extract are active and how we can optimise the harvest of the plant so that the extract is more potent.”

Innovate Ag Project Director Mr Nick Watts said working with Professor Craik and his team has helped them to develop a better product, which is now available under permit for cotton and macadamias, with full registration due in October 2016.

“Understanding the active ingredient helped us to proceed through the regulatory process, and the research team is now optimising how we grow and harvest the Butterfly Pea crop to gain maximum yield of the active components,” Mr Watts said.

Sero-X® is now available under permit for cotton and macadamias with full registration due in October 2016.

Sero-X® will be the first pesticide to be approved by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority with effectively no upper limit of use because it is non-toxic even at high doses, and as far as Mr Watts and Professor Craik are aware, the first registered cyclotide product anywhere in the world.

“Peptides and proteins are natural substances that break down to amino acids, which are basically food, so there should be no concerns about toxic residues,” Professor Craik said.

“Cotton is a crop that needs a lot of protection from insects, and traditional pesticides can be damaging to the environment and non target species, so there is an ongoing need to develop new products for cotton and other crops.”

Innovate Ag aims to give growers alternatives to the pesticides that have been shown to negatively impact on pollinators such as bees.

Mr Watts said his company aims to give growers alternatives to the pesticides that have been shown to negatively impact on pollinators such as bees.

“Having alternative products that do not harm beneficial insects and the environment is crucial,” he said.

“We’ve shown that Sero-X® is effective at protecting cotton and macadamia crops, and that it does not negatively impact pollinators.

“We are now focusing our research on other food crops—there are currently very few options for growers to produce organically certified crops without losing significant yield to insect damage, but we can solve that problem.

“The results are looking promising—this could turn out to be a general approach for using natural insecticides from one type of plant to protect many others.” 

Professor Craik said the partnership showed the mutual benefit of collaborations between researchers and industry.

“Working with Innovate Ag has been a great experience on both sides, allowing us to apply our research to an industry challenge and see our discoveries creating change for Australian business,” he said.

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