Deep diving into biological dark matter

img

Southern Europe is home to the world’s greatest biotechnology center for natural agriculture. From there, a group of experts is working on over 45 current projects to address the major challenges confronting global agriculture, as well as assisting other agribusiness companies and producers in becoming “greener.”

Efrén Remesal González, Director of Research & Development, tells us about their history and future projects.

Just over 14 years ago, Kimitec’s founders set out to change the way food is produced.

At the time, scientific evidence was beginning to point to agrochemicals as the cause of biodiversity loss, water pollution, and other serious environmental and human health concerns. In Europe, large distributors set out on a quest to limit the use of active ingredients, imposing MRLs that were often stricter than applicable regulations. And consumers, a key piece in the entire food production system, were feeling completely outraged at the multiple scandals involving the toxicity of agricultural inputs that made the front pages.

The founders of this biotechnology company were convinced that there was another way, a different approach based on the elimination of synthetic molecules from our food production system. And they decided to take action. They would offer farmers an alternative: Natural solutions as effective as synthetic chemicals.

Kimitec’s headquarters is located in the heart of Europe’s agricultural hub. From there, they began to travel around, trying to identify the latest scientific and technological developments and meet the brightest minds in the emerging, brand-new field of agricultural bioscience.

They discovered that nature (plants, fungi, bacteria, and microalgae) is an endless source of bioactive compounds, capable of naturally increasing agricultural productivity.

After investing over 20 million euros in the research and development of natural agricultural solutions and demonstrating that the development of natural biopesticides, as effective as their chemical counterparts, was indeed possible, in October 2019 Kimitec opened its MAAVi Innovation Center, the largest research center for biopesticides and probiotics dedicated to natural agriculture in Europe, and one of the largest biotechnology hubs in the world.

A state-of-the-art facility of over 5,000 m2, with a greenhouse area of 1,000 m2, managed by an R&D&I team of over 50 industry experts, who currently work on the development of nature-based solutions, trying to understand the needs of every crop, both regarding growth and protection.

But let us continue our story. The European Union launched its Green Deal plan in May 2020, right in the middle of the worldwide COVID 19 crisis, which featured a specialized program for the agri-food sector:  From Farm to Fork. Growers throughout Europe became pallid. How were they supposed to maintain productivity, while reducing chemical-based agricultural inputs by 50%, fertilizers by 20%, and nutrient losses by at least 50% while ensuring no deterioration on soil fertility. The United States, Canada, China, and South Korea quickly followed suit. Taking action against climate change was imperative, and environmentally friendly measures were high on everyone’s political agenda.

We immediately understood how hard those measures would hit European growers, leaving them without real, effective tools to sustain productivity and face a potentially serious problem of pathogen resistance. We realized that we needed to accelerate and expand our research model.

MAAVi Innovation Center: The Alternative to Synthetic Chemicals

45 projects are currently being researched at MAAVi Innovation Center, all of which cover major issues for global agriculture. They are classified in three different areas: Biocontrol, Plant Performance, and Pre- & Probiotics.

After two years of extensive research, in September 2020, we announced the status of our bioherbicide platform, a project that will result in a natural alternative to glyphosate, developed with the help of various omics tools capable of identifying molecules and natural compounds with phytotoxic activity for the development of a new generation of bioherbicides.

Almost at the same time, our natural substitute for hydrogen cyanamide began its agronomic validation phase. With similar results to its chemical counterpart, but with no risks to the health of the applicator. Producers of deciduous fruit trees now have a natural alternative to offset the climate change induced cut in the number of chill hours, which are essential for sprouting.

But we have many other projects in the pipeline.

In the realm of insecticide-based biopesticides, we are working on a solution against many species of lepidoptera, and on a second one against nematodes. The first project focuses on Tuta absoluta, Lobesia botrana and Cydia pomonella. However, most of our attention and resources are focused on another species, Spodoptera sp., which affects 66 different crops, primarily soybean in Brazil and corn in China, and has an annual economic impact of about 1.2 billion dollars.

We are also developing biofungicides to combat pathogens like Botrytis cinera in vine, which has a huge impact on both vineyards and table grape crops in France, Italy, Spain, China, USA, Chile, and Australia. Similarly, we are targeting coffee rust and the devastating black sigatoka of bananas in Central America, for which there is no treatment yet. These pathogens urgently need a natural, effective solution, and therefore clearly deserve a dedicated project.

In terms of agricultural environmental sustainability, we are now working on identifying a specific consortium of microorganisms for the phyllosphere, which will benefit the crop by fixing atmospheric nitrogen, biostimulating the crop, and increasing production.

Furthermore, we are studying specialized microbial consortia for soybean and tomato, which will ultimately increase the organoleptic and chemopreventive characteristics of fruits.

And finally, let me mention our plant performance area, which is not only searching for the aforementioned substitute for hydrogen cyanamide, but also for other solutions such as a solar protectant for horticultural open-field crops, citrus and cherries, as well as our biostimulant platform, which is already at an advanced stage of development.

Additionally, we are involved in developing seed treatments with biostimulant, biopesticide, and probiotic solutions, as well as other new approaches such as the use of bacteriophages as biological agents against devastating diseases like Erwinia amylovora in pome fruit trees.

We also run MAAVi Labs, which are strategic partnerships with agribusiness companies and large producers in which we make our research center available to them to assist them in customizing their own natural solutions.

It’s all about natural efficacy

The efficacy of our products is based on our 4Health Technology, which follows pharmaceutical industry procedures, assisted by a proprietary artificial intelligence algorithm. This enables us to uncover non-obvious realities within the synergistic relationships of the compounds we obtain from four natural sources: Botany, Microbiology, Microalgae and Green Chemistry.

It is worth noting that just 0,2% of those bioactive compounds, also known by the scientific community as “nature’s dark matter”, have been identified. As a result, our Machine Learning system will significantly increase and expand our knowledge about the plants, microorganisms, and microalgae with which we are working, helping us in increasing the productivity of our MAAVi Innovation Center, minimizing the time to develop natural and effective tools, and reducing the rate of error in our research activities.

As you can see, technology is at the core of our business. But we only use it to highlight nature’s leading role. The sooner we unveil and understand the links between nature’s many systems in general, and crops in particular, the sooner we will attain the environmentally sustainable, healthier future we desire.

Remember, nature has the answers… We just need to find them.

Te puede interesar...

From medicine to agriculture. The use of peptides for the improvement of human and plant health.

Hace 5 months | Agriculture

Ready for Battle: Priming, Plant Immune System and Fighting-Off Pathogens

Hace 7 months | Agriculture

WE KEEP WORKING… FOR YOU AND FOR EVERYONE!

Hace 1 year | Agriculture

The time for biotechnology singularity is now

Hace 1 week | Research