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If you’ve ever tried to grow any food crop - shoot, even a garden - you know that insect pests are unavoidable. Over the past 100 years, chemical pesticides have been developed as efficient and cost effective ways for farmers to manage these pests. But as I’m sure you know, they are not without their downsides: pests are building resistance, they are constantly under environmental scrutiny, and frankly, there hasn’t been much innovation in this space.
Our guests today, Anna Rath and Ben Cicora of the company Vestaron say: we’ve seen this before. They’ll lay out a case for you that what’s happening right now in ag chem has already played out in human chemistry. The clear winner has been biotechnology: namely using peptides, which are essentially just proteins except smaller, instead of chemistry. In human pharmaceuticals, this gave rise to companies like Genentech and Amgen. In agriculture, Vestaron is pioneering their peptide-based products that have the same effectiveness as the chemical alternatives, but with a new mode of action, and without some of those negative externalities of chemicals.
Now I want to be clear here, because it can get confusing: peptides are different from other biologicals that you hear about in agriculture, and may have even heard about on this show. Those are generally microbes, these are short chain amino acids. Again, they’re basically proteins, only smaller. So they’re not ag chemicals, but they’re also not biologicals in the classic agricultural definition of the term. Making this clear is actually part of their challenge in commercialization, which we get into in this episode.
I know some of this gets a little technical, but I highly recommend you stick around and have a listen to this episode. If this is the first time you’re hearing about peptides, I guarantee you it won’t be the last.