Pests in the Press

Arcis Worm Masthead

The Organisation

Arcis Biotechnology is a research and development led company with expertise in the development and commercialisation of a wide range of innovative and effective application technologies. With fully equipped laboratory facilities, Arcis has currently developed a number of patented compounds and technologies, which have entered the marketplace via various licencing partners.

arcisbio.com

The Challenge

Plant parasitic nematodes cause an estimated 11% loss in life sustaining crops worldwide. Crops affected include soybean, wheat, sugarcane and potatoes, along with several other economically important crops. These soil borne microscopic roundworms feed on plant cells predominantly from the root section. In addition to direct injury to the plant, nematode infestations are often associated with secondary infections of other pathogens that are able to invade a weakened plant. PPN impose huge loss of profits worldwide in agriculture, forestry and horticulture, through yield reductions and cost of control.

The parasites have recently become of interest to more than crop growers and scientists as there have been several fresh infestations at sports grounds. Sporting events such as the Six Nations Rugby Tournament, Premier League football and horse racing, have all faced disruptions as high PPN numbers in the turf grass root zones leads to weak, yellowing patchy turf that is soon reduced to a muddy field under studded boots and horse hooves.

There are various methods that have been used in attempts to control PPN numbers. Biological controls like natural predators and physical controls such as solarisation can prove effective in some circumstances, but the success is often dependent on a range of factors including climate, soil type and nematode species present. Subsequently, growers have traditionally relied on chemical nematicides to treat the infected soils.

Organophosphates and carbamates are commonly used but face increasing restrictions on applications due to the hazards they present to both growers and the surrounding environments. Arcis wanted to find a safer more effective and more economical nematicide.

Skills Sought

  • Research experience
  • Working with data
  • Data analysis
  • Knowledge of soil composition and biodiversity  

The Solution

The Centre of Global Eco-Innovation facilitated a partnership between Arcis Biotechnology and the Environment Centre at Lancaster University to help develop a new and environmentally friendly solution. Stephanie Bryan, was recruited as a graduate researcher to work on a three year research project to observe the effects of the product on various soil samples and their respective wheat crop.

Small scale commercial field trials have been carried out on a range of arable fields in the midlands and south east of England to further establish the effects of the product. Alongside the trials, Stephanie has taken soil samples to observe the effect of the product on the soil microbial diversity. Using a modern molecular
technique, real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction, it is possible to create a genetic profile of the DNA present in the soil in a method similar to those used in forensic science. This allows for the sensitive detection of changes in the soil biodiversity occurring due to nematicide application and crop growth.

Dr Rogers of Arcis Biotechnology explained, “Before a new product can be widely distributed and licensed, there is a need to gain further understanding to optimise applications and to explore the ecological implications of its use. In a three-year PhD research project, funded by the centre, Stephanie has been addressing a number of important questions for us about the potential use of our new product, which containing a novel combination of biocides and surfactants that target PPNs. “This information will be used to decide how the product may best be used for maximum effect on target PPNs whilst minimising the impact on soil health and ultimately the sustainable intensification of agriculture.”

Cost‌

The scheme was part-financed by The Centre of Global Eco-Innovation and part-financed by Arcis Biotechnology Ltd. 

Impact

Through Stephanie’s research, significant progress has been observed in producing a viable alternative to less consistent biological and physical controls and other more hazardous chemical nematicides. The benefits of such a product are becoming increasingly apparent, within both the economic and ecological context and through possible future production and distribution possibilities. 

Benefits

To the Company

  • Production of such a nematicide can only lead to increased industry and even global recognition for Arcis Biotechnology
  • Possibilities of this product are on a global scale
  • Continued research in conjunction with the centre for Global Eco-Innovation and Lancaster University, Arcis Biotechnology can access a range of support in research, finance and facilities
  • The benefits of this product surpass the strength of grass on a football pitch, in tackling nematodes, crop loss can be significantly reduced around the world, helping to tackle one of the world’s foremost challenges, in the form of food security

“Thanks to the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation we’ve been able to use facilities at the Lancaster Environment Centre to conduct glasshouse trials to examine the effect of the product on plant growth and soil moisture. Early results have shown no phytotoxic effects on the product on wheat plants when applied to the soil. There has been some evidence to suggest that the surfactants in the product increase moisture retention within the soil which may be advantageous to plant growth.” 

 To the Student

  • Vital workplace experience 
  • Industry specialisation 

“I was particularly interested in an industry focussed PhD because it would allow me to contribute to fundamental science research alongside creating an opportunity to see a direct real-world impact of my work. 

There is a global drive for greater partnerships between academic and industry and it was exciting to be able to be a part of unique scheme.  I am certain having this collaborative experience will be of a great advantage whether I continue a career in academia or industry or hopefully both!”