HOW MUSTGROW TURNED THE MUSTARD SEED INTO A BIOTECHNOLOGY
The world needs more food than ever before, and people increasingly want their food to be grown as naturally and organically as possible—without the use of hazardous chemicals. However, organic growers struggle to keep the pests and weeds at bay, and their crops suffer for it. This is a huge barrier to widespread adoption of organic agriculture.
MustGrow has a solution: offering growers natural, effective options from the mustard seed. Yes, the very same mustard that you eat on your hotdogs and hamburgers. And leading agricultural companies agree…as evidenced by our partnerships with Janssen PMP (division of Johnson & Johnson), Bayer, Sumitomo Corporation, and Univar’s NexusBioAg. Using the mustard seed’s natural defence mechanism, together with our partners, we’re developing biotechnologies to change the face of food production.
What is Biotechnology?
At its simplest, biotechnology uses natural processes to create products and services. Said another way, biotechnology is created by using natural and engineering sciences to harness cellular and biomolecular processes.
This is what we’ve done with the mustard seed: created biopesticides, biofumigants, and bioherbicides from its natural pest and disease protection mechanisms.
What is a Biopesticide?
Biopesticides are a natural alternative to synthetic chemical options for pest control in crops. Why the need for alternatives? Well, synthetic pesticides come with warnings about kidney and liver damage, neurotoxicity, birth defects, and more—threats that pose serious problems for future generations that we should be taking action against now.
The bio part of biopesticide means a safer, healthier option for growers. Until now, farmers have applied these hazardous synthetic chemicals out of necessity. However, with the rise of biotechnologies, we can provide more options.
What is a Biofumigant?
Fumigation is another method of pest control, designed to eradicate soil borne pests and pathogens (organisms that can create disease). A fumigant, as its name suggests, is a gaseous, fumy substance used to suffocate or poison pests.
However, because fumigant is a gas, it’s difficult to control completely. If the wind isn’t just right, it can spread further than it should. If a person inhales a fumigant, it can cause a myriad of health problems.
A biofumigant is still a gaseous substance and acts in the same way, but the key difference is its natural makeup. Because the key components are separated and not active until combined, it’s safe to transport, handle, and apply.
What is Bioherbicide?
Herbicides kill the weeds within crops. A bioherbicide is derived from plant, insect, or microbe extracts to offer a natural version of weed control.
Why Mustard Seed?
Mustard is part of the Brassicaceae plant family, along with cauliflower, horseradish, and wasabi. Brassicaceae plants are unique in that they contain organosulfur compounds (organic molecules + sulphur) that create a pungent odour and spicy taste in the plants. Allyl isothiocyanate (AITC) is one of the organosulfur compounds found within this plant family and is the key to our technology.
The seed of the mustard is the ideal choice because it has the highest concentrations of the AITC compound. Each plant in the Brassicaceae family contains different concentrations and compositions of the AITC compound that lives in the roots, leaves, and stems and is most present in the reproductive tissues (florets, flowers, and seeds).
How Does Allyl Isothiocyanate (AITC) Work?
AITC functions effectively as a pesticide since it moves as a gas in soil pore spaces. Its hydrophobicity is low enough that it does not extensively separate into the solid soil phase, which is essential for when it reaches the target pest.
AITC readily moves through cell membranes and interacts irreversibly with a pest’s proteins and amino acids. This interaction forms covalent bonds, disrupting the cell’s function and killing the pests.
The AITC compound is activated when the mustard seed tissues are disturbed, making it very toxic to microbes, nematodes (roundworms), insects, and fungi.
What is Thiocyanate?
The second component of the mustard seed that makes it so special is its thiocyanate, which gets taken up by plant roots and transported throughout the entire plant. Thiocyanate’s ability to bind iron starves plants (weeds) of a necessary nutrient, thereby killing them and behaving as a systemic herbicide.
Natural Vs. Synthetic AITC
Synthetic AITC releases instantly, meaning its potential within crops is limited. It can result in crop damage and is not safe for organic use—holding a Class 6 inhalation poison and toxicity classification. Because of its hazardous state, synthetic AITC requires special transportation, handling, and storage guidelines, which inevitably increases costs and safety concerns.
In comparison, we can control the release of natural AITC, meaning it won’t damage the crop at any stage and has incredible potential for numerous sectors. Because the two key components for our natural AITC formula are separated and not active until combined in the field, this process poses no risk during transportation, handling, or application, with the bonuses of extended shelf life and minimal restrictions. Natural AITC is eligible for organic production and is safe for plants, people, and the planet.
What Can We Do With the Mustard Seed?
As already mentioned, the naturally occurring compounds within the mustard seed can be used to create many biotechnologies. We are currently working within three areas: biopesticide, biofumigant, and bioherbicide.
- Our preplant soil biofumigant has had great success in bananas, fruits, vegetables, canola, and pulses. It’s applied before the crop is planted to treat soil borne pests and diseases. This technology is filling a much-needed gap in the high-valued fruit and vegetable industry, as many synthetic chemicals are being banned. Our biofumigant is cost-effective when compared to other options, requires low application rates, and, most importantly, it’s effective.
- Postharvest food preservation is key to keeping a farmer’s hard-earned crops stored without disease, deterioration, or pests. Technologies that can keep food good for longer are necessary as they’re being transported around the world for consumption. Our technology controls mycotoxins (fungi that produce molds), pests, disease, and food borne pathogens in stored food.
- Bioherbicide has the potential to be combined with or replace products such as glyphosate. It may be used in home and garden spaces or organic acres, and we’ve seen great success with our trials—100% of weeds killed from the roots up. This particular technology can be used for early season weed management and extended seed weed management.
All of this potential from the tiny but mighty mustard seed. Our biotechnologies are in varying stages of testing—all showing encouraging results. These three areas are just the beginning of what the mustard seed has to offer.