MOSCOW, Idaho, May 12,
2005: A pair of new pesticides recently registered by the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use against plant-damaging
fungi grew from University of Idaho researcher Don Crawford's study
of bacteria found among linseed plant roots. The new pesticides
offer a non-toxic weapon against major fungal diseases that cause
extensive damage to greenhouse, nursery, turf and agricultural crops.
company representatives, Natural Industries' Actinovate
SP and Micro 108 have been approved for use in organic
production by the USDA National Organic Program. Actinovate
SP is OMRI-listed, while Micro 108 has been submitted
to OMRI for review. As always, double-check with your
certifying agency before using any new material. For
product labels and MSDS information visit www.naturalindustries.com.
Crawford, a microbiology professor and director of the Environmental
Science program, said that is the beauty of putting bacteria to
work against fungi. The bacteria, which colonize the plants' roots,
produce chemical defenses at the specific points where the fungus
attacks, delivering microdoses of antibiotics to specific targets
at specific times.
With the investment and support of Houston-based Natural Industries,
two pesticide products recently won formal approval of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency. Both rely on the specific strain
of bacteria that Crawford discovered attack a wide spectrum of root-damaging
fungi. As a result, production has soared at the small Moscow, Idaho,
spin-off company, Innovative BioSystems, which produces the bacteria
In all, efforts by company founder Bill Kowalski, who died three
years ago, to market the product began more than a decade ago. The
business is now led by his son, company president Matt Kowalski.
"Without their support and perseverance, this product would
not have reached the market," Crawford said.
Natural Industries markets Actinovate SP, the commercial product,
and shepherded the product through EPA registration, a five-year
effort. In January, the company's early work produced a bonus. The
closely-related product, Actino-Iron, won EPA registration approval
in January months earlier than anticipated. "It was actually
a surprise because we were expecting it sometime this summer. It's
just in time for spring," Kowalski said.
The company's investment in the federal registration process approached
$500,000, Matt Kowalski said. "We paid for everything on cash
flow, which was a big testament to the product. We were able to
generate sales to not only sustain the company, pay employees and
satisfy investors, but also to pay for our registration, which is
very expensive. It was pretty nerve-wracking through the years."
"The real key was EPA registration because of the inability to
really talk about its biocontrol abilities when you can only sell
it as a soil amendment," Crawford said.
||"The real key was EPA registration
because of the inability to really talk about its biocontrol
abilities when you can only sell it as a soil amendment."
When his father first traveled to the University of Idaho, his
interest was in using microbes to clean up contaminated industrial
sites. His interest shifted to an agricultural product after visiting
Kowalski's and Crawford's faith in the bacteria's ability to combat
fungi led to early seed and soil inoculants that were based on tests
that showed plants grew better with help from the bacterium. But
the company and its distributors could not talk about the bacterium's
abilities as a pesticide without violating federal law. Extensive
testing and review are required by EPA to ensure the environmental,
consumer and worker safety of pesticides.
The specific strain that Crawford isolated and patented with graduate
student Hyung-Won Suh in 1995 is known as Streptomyces lydicus WYEC108.
The strain caught their attention because it enhanced plant growth
when added to soil and fought common, economically damaging fungal
diseases of plants.
Fungicides, pesticides that target fungi, tend to be toxic to animals
because fungal cells are closer to plants and animals than to bacteria,
Crawford said. That is the advantage of enlisting bacteria to provide
protection to plants' roots at the cellular level, serving as factories
to apply microdoses of fungicide where they count the most.
The quest to develop the new pesticide will be featured in the
Society of Industrial Microbiology News in an article by Crawford,
Kowalski, and other principals including Mark Roberts, the chief
operating officer of Innovative BioSystems in Moscow; Gene Merrell,
UI associate vice president for research and chief technology transfer
officer; and Lee A. Deobald, UI research associate scientist.
Now Crawford is studying bacteria found among sagebrush roots as
sources of new medical antibiotics. Bacteria supply nearly two-thirds
of the antibiotics used by physicians but microbiologists have barely
scratched the surface in identifying potential sources of new drugs.
He decided to look among sagebrush roots for potential miracle
drugs because the plant is a common element of the western landscapes
There's also a strong chance that a plant able to survive some
of the least hospitable habitats has something a little extra working
in its favor. Crawford believes bacteria may help sagebrush thrive
despite the constant challenges of pathogens that defeat lesser
Bill Loftus is science writer for the University of Idaho. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
University of Idaho Environmental Science Program director Don Crawford
can be reached at email@example.com.