Semiochemicals in Agriculture: Harnessing Nature's Communication System

In a recent interview, Dr. Matthias Weidenauer, Regulatory Affairs Expert at Battelle, discussed the role of semiochemicals in agriculture and their potential as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional crop protection products.  

Dr. Weidenauer highlights the factors driving the need for more sustainable solutions in crop protection, including increasing regulatory requirements, biodiversity loss and climate change. Semiochemicals, a class of naturally occurring substances released by living organisms, play a vital role in addressing these challenges. He also discusses the technical and regulatory challenges faced with using semiochemicals, particularly in Europe, and highlights how Battelle's expertise can help Plant Protection Product (PPP) manufacturers navigate these hurdles and bring innovative solutions to market.  


The Role of Semiochemicals

In your opinion, what factors have led to the need for a more environmentally friendly alternative in crop protection? 

With increasing regulatory environmental requirements, particularly in Europe, the registration of conventional insecticides used in agriculture has become more challenging to achieve. Adding to this, the rising concerns about loss of biodiversity and the discovery of a decline in the world’s insect population, which was reported to be quite dramatic in both number of species and abundance, has led to the desire to have more specific and softer agents to control crop infestations. While the issues of loss of habitat and climate change are recognized as the driving factors that lead to the reduction of biodiversity and insect populations, agriculture is also being cited as a major cause. 

What role do semiochemicals play in the biological product landscape? 

Farmers require different tools and methods to fight pests and diseases to be able to protect their crops efficiently. The alternatives available should ideally provide different modes of action to avoid resistance developing in the pest population. With the approval of many conventional insecticides being revoked because of their undesirable or unacceptable properties, semiochemicals are an increasingly important component in the farmer’s toolbox.  


Semiochemicals in Agriculture

What are semiochemicals? 

Semiochemicals are a class of chemical substances or mixtures that are released by an individual plant or animal which affects the behavior of other individual plants or animals. Insect pheromones are an example of a well-known class of semiochemicals.  

How are semiochemicals used in agriculture and what are common techniques to manage pests? 

Semiochemicals are a large and diverse class of compounds and there is a wide range of potential and actual uses in agriculture. Probably the best known and developed group are pheromones, and in particular the straight chain lepidopteran acetates. Even within this class, several different application techniques are used. These range from the simple dispenser technology to more sophisticated sprayable formulations. The key is to control the release kinetics through either encapsulation or the use of a matrix able to absorb and release the pheromone in the desired amounts. 

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Challenges of Semiochemicals

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using semiochemicals in agriculture? 

Semiochemicals used for pest control are often applied at concentrations close to those occurring naturally, hence their use in agriculture can be expected to pose little concern for human health or the environment.  Further, as they are often target-specific, the impact on non-target organisms is minimal and therefore go a long way to preserve biodiversity at agricultural sites. Even the target organism population is not denuded from an area, but is controlled to a level that protects the crop yield. The main disadvantage may be the cost of getting farmers trained to use these new tools properly. 

What technical and regulatory challenges have been encountered with using semiochemicals in agriculture? 

In Europe, regulation (EC) 1107/2009 and the related guidance documents were designed to be applicable to synthetic chemical pesticides, and therefore the registration of semiochemicals encountered severe hurdles because these documents were applied to the approval of semiochemicals. Even though a low-risk criteria exists within the regulations, there is still an issue because initial decisions are based on hazard criteria, which can sometimes impede the true low-risk nature of some semiochemicals. The volatile nature of semiochemicals offers advantages and disadvantages. Some environmental compartments will have low or virtually non-existent exposure, but the high volatility can make conducting regulatory studies quite challenging. 

Regulatory regimens outside of the EU have more appropriate approval systems. For example, in the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations for Biochemical Pesticides allows for a reduced data set for substances that are naturally occurring and have a non-toxic mode of action.  


Battelle Crop Protection Solutions and Semiochemicals

How can Battelle Crop Protection Solutions help PPP manufacturers overcome these challenges? 

As a contract research organization with extensive experience in the regulation of plant protection products, whether it is a synthetic pesticide or a naturally occurring biological control agent, Battelle can accompany or guide you through the regulatory process to bring your discovery candidate to the market. This ranges from assessing the project’s viability to conducting specific studies for the dossier submission.  

How can Battelle Crop Protection Solutions help companies in the biological market? 

Battelle Crop Protection Solutions offers complete turn-key solutions for the entire development and regulatory process of biologicals, including bioformulation development, modelling, GLP product safety testing and regulatory consultancy.  

Battelle has a long-standing reputation in the U.S. and in Europe for being a trusted partner for formulating successful regulatory compliance strategies. Besides assisting with bioformulation development, Battelle supports our clients with their registration process for both biopesticides and biostimulants. 

We provide innovative full-scale registration and re-registration support, as well as expert advice in dossier compilation for conventional crop protection products and biologicals.  

Our end-to-end solutions approach allows us to provide support to our clients along the entire process, from the lab to the market. Battelle operates with an agile method, which speeds up the bioformulation development and winding registration processes. 

If you require any information about Battelle’s experience and end-to-end solutions, or how Battelle can help you across the complete process for both conventional and biological crop protection products, please do not hesitate to contact Dominik Reinhard [email protected]

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October 09, 2023
Battelle Insider
Estimated Read Time
4 Mins

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