Concepts underlying our innovations
In the present day environment, the crops are under constant attack by biotic agents which try to exploit the crops, causing damages. The agricultural producers, in their attempts to rid of the damaging agents, use various chemical agents to increase the production and improve quality. However, this comes at a multi-faceted cost which we at Future Tense try to minimize. We strive to make the food and environment cleaner, safer and free from persistent pollutants.
The increasing demand on agrochemicals to comply with the regulation makes many traditional products completely banned for use. On the other hand, the ever evolving pests, fungi, bacteria and viruses show increasing resistance to some pesticides, thus creating the actual need for continues innovation efforts.
The answers to these challenges lie in the ability to develop advanced agrochemicals that will avoid or overcome current hurdles. We have developed several approaches and work disciplines that we implement in our products. The disciplines enable us to create products that are both potent and at the same time environmentally acceptable.
Non-persistent agrochemicals using transient structures
Starting a trend in the ‘70s, the most persistent pesticides were doomed to be banned for use in the environmentally-conscious world. However, even pesticides that were classified as “non-persistent” have a certain lifetime in the environment, and current research shows that they have a non-negligible effect in the environment and in humans.
However, the problem is not limited to pesticides: other, less harmful chemicals such as fertilizers and health promoters also have negative effect on the environment. Therefore, when we design an agrochemical, we aim to provide a product that can survive just long enough to perform its task.
This approach can be realized by putting to use the transient structures concept. Transient structures are structures that are deliberately designed to break up, in a specific way, to simple, safe, molecules. These resulting molecules can be benign or have an additional effect.
Such transient structures can break up by a host of triggers, biotic or abiotic depending on their properties. Examples are changes in pH, response to UV light, oxidation and bacterial attack.
Other transient structures are beneficial also by performing as delivery vessels for nutrients. Once they release the nutrient, it becomes available to the crop and subsequently they lose their activity and environmental effect.
Efficient delivery of nutrients to crops
The use of synthetic complexing agents for delivery of nutrients to the crop is very common, and has its advantages. However, the use of synthetic complexing agents has some disadvantages: the synthetic complexing agents that are used are practically non degradable in the soil or else in the environment. Moreover, the common chelates used for this purpose (EDTA and similar chelates) may hold the metal too strongly, and this results in poor availability to the plant. On the other hand, the use of biodegradable (or chemically degradable) complexing agents is problematic because their activity is limited in time, since they exist as functional entities for a relatively short time. To compensate for the longevity issue, biodegradable agents require recurring administrations in order to keep the available nutrient level high in the soil. To address these problems, we develop mixtures of degradable complexing agents with different lifetimes, providing a constant supply of nutrients to the plant for a long time after a single application. This way, the plant enjoys a constant supply of nutrients, and the complexing molecules have a minimal environmental effect, if at all.
Polymers as pesticides and fertilizers
We pioneered the use of water soluble or dispersible short-length polymers as agrochemicals. We have also found that certain polymers are beneficial as pesticides, providing a novel approach to eradicate or reduce infestation of foliage or roots of a crop by insects and other pests. Other polymers were found to be excellent delivery tools for plant nutrients. New types of pesticides and fertilizers are currently being developed at the research facilities of Future Tense.
Cooperative effects in pesticide application
During our research programs at Future Tense Ltd., we have become aware of several combinations of components that worked jointly to increase the whole product’s potency as a pesticide. This effect could be a result of several mechanisms:
a) The combined product can eliminate target organisms that are resistant to one of the components (alternative operation).
b) One of the components induces a change in the target organism, making it more vulnerable to the other component (sequential operation).
c) The defensive mechanisms of the microorganism are overwhelmed by the combined effect of several compounds (parallel operation).
d) Other mechanism, yet to be discovered.
Overall, we have also found the cooperative effect to be an important design principle in pesticides.
Cooperative effects in soil treatment
Soils tend to accumulate various biologically active microbes, (microflora and microfauna) when cultivated over time. In most cases, specific crops are made vulnerable to a specific infestation or to a combination of infectious bio agents. A customary solution to the problem that has been practiced in the past and present is soil sterilization. This term relates to wholesale eradication of living organisms in the treated area. This can be achieved by the application of chemical or physical agents, or both. In our research, we accumulate knowledge of the effects of various novel agents for treating soil. In particular, the combined effect of respective individual agents is expected to give rise to a general type of soil remediation/fertilization/sterilization effect. Some such agents are also effective as foliar pesticides.
Another challenge in soil treatment is getting the pesticide to the actual location where it is supposed to act. In order to introduce pesticides into the soil, they must either be immersed in the gaseous medium (air), or in liquid medium (typically water). A pesticide which is not a gas must be able to disperse or, preferably, to dissolve in water in order to infiltrate into the soil. We make the pesticide agent soluble by adapting the formulation or changing the pesticide molecule itself. Moreover, in some of the cases, the additional solubilizing components that are introduced may also provide additional qualities on their own, in line with our principle of cooperative effect.
In our functional approach, simplicity is a major aspect and goal in designing agrochemicals. Simple solutions are not necessarily easier to design, but as products they have many advantages:
1. The working mechanism is easier to elucidate.
2. The environmental effect is easier to trace.
3. The product contains fewer by-products
4. Quality control is much easier.
5. The product is usually cheaper.