Could EcoPesticides’ technology save California’s wine industry?

August 5, 2015 by Drader

Red Grapes on the Vine in Napa Valley to be made into Wine

Before you open that bottle of California chardonnay, you may want to read this. Unless you’re involved in the wine industry, you’re probably unaware of an insect called a glassy-winged sharpshooter that has the potential to bring down California’s $18.5 billion wine industry and its $3.2 billion grape industry.

These innocuous insects carry a bacterium called Xylella fastidiosa, which causes Pierce’s Disease in grapevines, a devastating disease that kills the vines in two to three years. The threat to the wine and grape industries is so serious, the state of California has invested millions of dollars to control sharpshooters and although progress has been made, there is still no true solution for Pierce’s Disease.

EcoPesticides’ microencapsulation technology may hold the solution to controlling this insect-borne disease. Our co-founders, Ravi Durvasula, MD, and Adam Forshaw, MD, published a paper in the June 23, 2015 issue of BMC Biotechnology on our microencapsulation technology as a strategy to deliver recombinant (engineered) bacteria to a specific insect target with the purpose of controlling the insect without impacting the environment at large.

The paper, A Delivery System for Field Application of Paratrasgenci Control, specifically addresses the control of glassy-winged sharpshooter through the introduction of engineered bacteria that has been microencapsulated in a biopolymer to the gut of this disease-spreading insect. The microencapsulation is critical in containing the recombinant bacteria and environmental spread of foreign genetic material. It is also an important first step in translating paratransgenic science beyond the lab and into agricultural applications.

This is a possibly transformative breakthrough for the non-chemical control of insect-borne diseases that threaten global food (and wine) supplies. Traditional means of controlling insects through chemical-based insecticides are increasingly under fire due to the risk of leaving toxic residues and promoting target insect resistance. Alternatives such as paratransgenic manipulation of insects with genetically engineered bacteria to disrupt pathogens within the target insect population are under development, but have not been used in the field—or vineyards and orchards—due to the lack of a proven delivery system that meets Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines.

In this paper, Ravi and Adam report a novel strategy for delivery of genetically engineered bacteria that relies on EcoPesticides’ encapsulation technology to target the glassy-winged sharpshooter. Using simple and inexpensive materials for bioencapsulation, Ravi and Adam demonstrate the successful targeting of the sharpshooter under controlled conditions with an alginate hydrogel tuned to release its bacterial payload into the foregut of the insect. The microencapsulation system permits delivery of the bacterial payload to the insect, while greatly minimizing release in the environment; a finding we believe supports robust field-applicable technologies for paratransgenic control of insect-borne diseases will soon be possible.

This is exciting news for EcoPesticides, our supporters and the agricultural industry ay large, which is working hard to identify new ways of controlling threats to the global food supply that don’t involve chemicals. For more information, we invite you to contact us.


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