TechAccel, the Kansas City-based technology and venture development company, has announced it has awarded the first grant under its “Path to Commercialization” program at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, one of the world’s largest independent plant science institutes located in St. Louis, MO.
The $60,000 grant will fund a project to demonstrate a sprayable technology to apply RNA interference (or RNAi) technology in a biopesticide targeting the Diamondback moth. The Diamondback moth attacks cruciferous vegetable crops like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage, and is responsible for billions of dollars in crop losses every year worldwide.
“Our first grant will support a new platform technology applied to one of the world’s worst insect pests,” said Michael Helmstetter, Ph.D., president and chief executive of TechAccel. “This project is a perfect example of our science advancement commitment with the Danforth Center. We see great potential in using this RNAi technology as a biopesticide against the Diamondback moth.”
TechAccel is a venture and technology development company focused in agriculture and animal health. The company invests in or acquires new technology and funds science advancement programs with research university partners to assist in commercialization.
TechAccel and the Danforth Center announced the “Path to Commercialization” Program in December 2016 as part of a strategic relationship. Since then, TechAccel also has leased office space at the Danforth Center to further encourage collaboration in science advancement opportunities.
“This technology uses RNAi to alter an insect’s gut immune system,” said James Carrington, Ph.D., president of the Danforth Center. “The funded project allows us to test a new delivery approach that will enable use on a wide variety of crops. The technology uses a highly selective mechanism to control crop-damaging insects with low environmental impact.”
The RNAi technology project, nicknamed “Danforth Biosprey,” will be led by Nigel Taylor, Ph.D., who is the interim director of the Institute for International Crop Improvement, associate member and Dorothy J. King Distinguished Investigator at Danforth Center.
The project, which will be performed at Danforth Center laboratories and facilities, is expected to take about six months to complete. The project will apply technology developed by Taylor and Bala Venkata, Ph.D., a research scientist with the Danforth Center’s Institute for International Crop Improvement. The technology was originally proven effective in the Tobacco hornworm; this project applies the same technique to the Diamondback moth.
“A logical next step might include an expansion of the platform, perhaps testing effectiveness of a biopesticide for army worms, ear worms and other insect pests,” said Helmstetter. “Additionally, we believe the sprayable solution could make the new technology immediately attractive to major crop producers.”
The “Path to Commercialization” grant program, which has a goal of advancing and commercializing agricultural innovations from the laboratory into the marketplace, was funded with an initial $250,000. TechAccel is now exploring additional proof-of-concept and commercial feasibility studies with principal investigators at the Danforth Center.
According to a paper published in the Journal of Economic Entomology in 2012, the worldwide economic impact of the Diamondback moth has been calculated at $4 billion to $5 billion annually. The Diamondback moth’s pest status has grown in recent years due to greater production of vegetable and oilseed crops while the moth has steadily developed increasing resistance to chemical pesticides.