Editorial Feature

SPEAR®: Organic Biological Peptides for Eco-Friendly Crop Protection

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According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 30% of the world’s produce is lost due to insect infestations and climate change in the agricultural fields. Vestaron has developed a new technology based on peptides that provide eco-friendly and sustainable protection against harmful insect pests often present on crops.

Vestaron, a start-up whose corporate headquarters is located at Research Triangle Park, Michigan (USA), has commercialized the use of peptide-based bioinsecticides.

Vestaron has a strong research team at the core of the company. The team has been successful in tackling three key problems that were responsible for its past failure in the development of peptide insecticides. These are as follows:

  1. Designing a cost-efficient production
  2. Oral formulations
  3. Seeking regulatory approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Major Disadvantages of Conventional Synthetic Pesticides for Crop Protection

Some insects play a crucial role in the plant pollination process. The application of conventional synthetic insecticides results in the elimination of all insects irrespective of their nature.

These insecticides harm not only the beneficial organisms but also the workers, consumers and the environment. It also takes many years to develop synthetic insecticides and costs millions for commercialization. Vestaron believes biological peptides are the most effective solution that overcomes all challenges faced by conventional synthetic pesticides.

What Makes Vestaron’s Biological Peptides More Effective than Conventional Synthetic Pesticides?

Vestaron’s products are more effective, sustainable and non-toxic. Its products are designed so that it is safe for honey bees, mammals, and fish. It has an exceptional working principle that affects the insects’ nervous system, i.e., nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (NOA).

The peptide-based bioinsecticides could work against major classes of insects and pests such as mites.

Anna Rath, JD, President, and CEO of Vestaron said that the uniqueness of Vestaron lies in the fact that the efficiency of all peptides developed by them is comparable to the existing small-molecule chemicals used in agriculture for crop protection.

Spear is based on a new mechanism, i.e., neuromuscular IRAC code (Group 32), approved by the scientific community. It is associated with insecticide resistance to conventional synthetic insecticides. The organic peptide is effective against a wide range of insects, for example, insects that belong to the orders Lepidoptera, Diptera, Orthoptera, and Coleoptera.

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In accordance with the EPA, Spear underwent a series of severe toxicological tests that confirmed its efficiency as an insecticide. It also provided safety to non-target organisms, such as adult honey bees. This substantiates Spear’s products as an alternative to synthetic insecticides (for example, the use of neonicotinoids on flowering plants has been prohibited).

Role of Peptides in the Development of Vestaron’s Insecticides

Peptides are organic substances containing amino acids. The research team at Vestaron modifies naturally occurring peptides that possess insecticidal property, for example, venom peptides from spiders, so that they lack any activity against mammals or vertebrates.  After this, they synthesize the genes that encode for the peptide and insert it within yeast strain following the production procedure. The research team at Vestaron continues to work on the improvement of the yeast production system that is essential for secreting cysteine-rich peptides.

This active ingredient is also useful for protecting vegetables, fruits, ornamentals, and other high-value crops. The optimization of the peptides makes them more bioavailable to the target insects. These peptides can travel across the gut wall of the target insect and reach the NOA receptor, which is a crucial receptor for killing insect pests. As mentioned earlier, these organic peptides are perfectly safe for beneficial insects such as honey bees.

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Spear® Eco-Friendly Products for Crop Protection

Spear®-T

It is a biological insecticide or miticide. Spear®-T is a concentrated liquid bioinsecticide that got its EPA approval in 2018. It is highly effective against four major pests that are typically present in greenhouses. These are aphids, thrips, mites, and whiteflies.

The insecticidal peptide disrupts the NOA of the target insect’s nervous system by contact activity. This product is non-toxic to humans, mammals, birds, and fish. It is also safe for beneficial insects such as honeybees. It is an IRAC Group 32 biological product.

Spear®-Lep

Spear®-Lep is Vestaron’s newest peptide-based bioinsecticide that is effective for vegetables, fruits and high-value field crops. This product received approval in 2019. It targets lepidopteran pests, for example, caterpillars, worms and loopers, that commonly infect both outdoor and indoor plants.

This is an organic insecticide that belongs to the new chemical class of cysteine-rich peptides. Similar to Spear®-T, this product also affects the NOA receptor of the target insect’s nervous system through contact activity and is non-toxic to humans, mammals, birds, and fish. It is also safe for beneficial organisms and is an IRAC Group 32 biological product.

Ben Cicora, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Vestaron, claimed that the new partnership of Vestaron with Wilbur-Ellis is an important step for the commercialization of their product.

Wilbur-Ellis was founded in 1921 and is widely known to be leading international marketers and distributors of animal feed, agricultural products, and specialty chemicals and ingredients. 

Jesse Rosales, key actives and biopesticides portfolio manager for Wilbur-Ellis, highly recommended SPEAR-LEP®.  Their team was very pleased with the result obtained on evaluating the product on almond and apple trees. The products without MRLs (Maximum Residual Levels) specifically interested the salespeople and growers.

Video Credit: Vestaron Corporation/YouTube.com

Future Developments of Natural Peptides

Vestaron is keenly focused on the development of improved natural peptides to increase their line of products.

SPEAR technology can also be exploited in the production of cysteine-rich peptides for bactericidal or fungicidal properties. The company aims to develop eco-friendly, economical, and sustainable products for crop protection.

References and Further Reading

CORDIS (2020) Peptide-based highly selective eco-friendly pest control. [Online] Available at: https://cordis.europa.eu/article/id/410223-peptide-based-highly-selective-eco-friendly-pest-control (Accessed on 22 July 2020).

Vestaron. [Online] Available at: http://www.vestaron.com/ (Accessed on 22 July 2020).

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Priyom Bose, PhD

Written by

Priyom Bose, PhD

Priyom graduated from the University of Madras, India, with a PhD in Plant Biology and Plant Biotechnology.

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