A world first in green pest control

Wasps landing on a flower

A UofG spinout company has secured £1.3m of seed funding to develop environmentally friendly pesticides, the first of their kind worldwide.

The next-generation green biopesticides have been created by SOLASTA Bio and will help protect beneficial pollinators such as bees, while targeting damaging insects which can cause billions of pounds-worth of crop losses each year. 

“We have developed a world-leading solution which represents a profound change for how insect control agents are discovered,” says UofG Professor and CEO of SOLASTA Bio Shireen Davies, “and a step change in how we not only protect our crops worldwide, but also our ecosystem. The funding will allow us to accelerate our research and development, with a view to launching the products on the market in 2027 – a timescale half that of synthetic pest control products.”

Chemical pesticides have been used for decades to control insect pests that attack food crops and transmit infectious diseases and the global market in insecticides is worth €18 billion a year. But this comes at a cost. The toxic substances they contain may harm health and the environment, while some pests can survive and grow resistant to the chemicals. An estimated 500 insect species have developed this ability over the past 50 years, costing US agriculture alone about $10 billion each year. 

As carbon emissions from agriculture make up 10% of those overall, it’s vital that new ways of protecting crops from insects are produced, and SOLASTA Bio’s green compounds leave little or no residue and have a low environmental impact.

With the new funding, SOLASTA Bio plans to move from laboratory trials to real-world uses of the products, known as “Insect Water Taps” (IWTs). They represent a radical change in the way insect control agents are discovered, as they are based in insect physiology rather than traditional synthetic chemistry. There is potential to use the IWTs in agriculture, horticulture and forestry without causing harm to the environment or consumers.

Award-winning scientist Shireen’s nature-inspired pesticides are the first of their kind to be developed anywhere in the world. Underpinned by UofG research, the company has been able to flourish on campus where they can make use of our facilities for genome analysis, fast screening, and insect rearing and testing.

This article was first published September 2021.

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