Ever since the we learned about how harmful pesticides can be and their omnipresence on fruits and vegetables from the store, we want to avoid them. Even if one soaks the produce in water with some baking soda you still can’t be sure if the pesticides are all neutralised. We definitely need non-toxic alternatives to pesticides for crops if we are to be sure we aren’t consuming them with our food.
We’ve heard of bio-pesticides, natural predators used for pest control etc. Scientists at Vestaron seem to have come up with another alternative that uses peptides, short chains of amino acids i.e., building blocks of proteins. The biotech startup has raised €78.76 million in its Series C funding round. Some of Vestaron’s investors have been iSelect, Northpond Ventures, Novo Holdings, Sygnenta Group Ventures, and CGC Ventures — the VC arm of Continental Grain while the new ones are Ordway Selections and Cavallo Ventures, the VC arm of agribusiness major Wilbur-Ellis, Argonautic Ventures, Endeavor8 and Fortistar.
All this investment gives hope that agriculturally produced food can be devoid of pesticides and just as effective as traditional pesticides. These new alternatives, antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), as they are being called, seem to display excellent bactericidal and fungicidal activities according to this study.
Vestaron calls its flagship peptide-based insecticide Spear. This product targets multiple pests and can be applied in the same way as conventional insecticides.
Peptides are naturally occurring proteins of 2 to 50 short chains amino acids. After being applied to crops, they degrade into single amino acids that are normally benign to the environment, humans and other organisms.
Spear works at the insect’s nicotinic acetylcholine receptor but a different, larger binding site than the conventional bio-based Spinosad or neonicotinoids which are toxic.
AMPs have surmounted the challenge of resistance that pests have built with decades of use of conventional crop protection products. Their safety and environmental profile as well as their ability to circumvent pest resistance brings them out on top and justifiably backed by investors.
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