A fungicide derived from amoeba has proven effective at protecting wheat from rust disease and other major fungal diseases at bay. Developed by French company Amoéba, this product could provide an eco-friendly solution to a growing problem in agriculture worldwide.  

Every year, over 5 million tons of wheat are lost to rust disease globally, which is equivalent to a loss of €840M. Rust disease is caused by more than 7,000 species of fungi, each infecting a specific plant species. The parasites don’t kill their host plant, but they significantly reduce growth and crop yield. 

Currently, the only solution suitable for large-scale agriculture is spraying chemical fungicides. This method is unspecific, and the fungi are starting to develop resistance.

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Lyon-based Amoéba is exploring a new approach to treat rust disease in cereals. The company breaks down the cells of the amoeba Willaertia magna to use them as a biocontrol agent. 

Biocontrol products are safer than the chemical fungicides that are currently used. Safer for the farmers and safer for the environment, leaving no residues on the final product,” Jean-Luc Souche, Business Developer at Amoéba, told me. 

The main markets for biofungicides today are the so-called ‘specialized crops’: grapes, fruit trees, vegetables. There is almost no biofungicide for field crops, and particularly for wheat.”

Amoéba tested its biocontrol product in several locations across Europe. The results show efficient protection against yellow and brown rust. 

In May, the company submitted an application to the European Food Safety Authority. “We expect the approval of the active substance at the end of 2022 or early 2023. The products could be on the market in 2024 or 2025,” Souche said.

Amoéba seeks to extend its approach to a wider range of parasites and applications. However, last year the company had to withdraw its US application to use living amoeba to disinfect water cooling towers.

Still, agricultural applications keep moving forward. In April, Amoéba announced eight potential partnerships to further develop its biocide portfolio. “All eight companies are looking for additional biocontrol products to enlarge or create their portfolio based on non-chemical products”, Fabrice Plasson, the CEO of Amoéba, explained. 

Potential partners will have the right to develop a wide range of biocontrol products in specific European countries or in the whole of Europe. The first applications will be on vegetables and grapevine.”

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