Product Development & Registration Series: In the Beginning

Ornamentals Advisory Blog

We’ll have some truly innovative crop protection products for ornamentals to tell you about over the coming months. Launches always excite us, not just because of the potential to improve your control of pests, diseases or weeds and management of crop growth, but because any new product is something we’ll have been working on for a very long time.

Developing chemistry-based products takes 8-10 years from the point when we discover a compound, to the stage where you can start treating your crops. That’s because plant protection products are among the most thoroughly researched, tested and regulated of anything you will use on your nursery.

So in this and the next couple of blogs, I want to say a little about what’s involved in bringing you a new plant growth regulator or pest, disease and weed control product.

It all starts with the search for molecular compounds with potential.

In the beginning

Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and other elements like phosphorus, sulphur, silicon and chlorine can be assembled to make organic molecules in an almost infinite number of ways but only about one in 100,000 of the molecules we look at eventually makes it as a product.

Fortunately, it’s not a random ‘lucky dip’. We know from our own research, as well as the findings of other scientists, what aspects of the biology of a pest, disease or weed are most susceptible to being disrupted. And advances in molecular biology and genetics are giving us an increasingly detailed picture of the specific molecular mechanisms that control, for example, a weed’s respiration, a pathogen’s growth and development or an insect’s muscle control.

Many active substances work because their molecular structure mimics, at least in part, that of an enzyme or hormone or other biological molecule – or one of their components – in the organism we want to control, and that can put a brake on a whole chain of metabolic reactions. You can think of it like your kid’s building bricks which depend on interlocking studs to hold them together. A brick of the wrong size or shape – a small two-stud one instead of the eight-stud that is called for ­– will still click into position but stop you completing what you were trying to build.

We now have some highly sophisticated databases and computer models which use this molecular knowledge to predict the kinds of chemistry we should be concentrating on that will be most likely to have the properties to target those mechanisms effectively.

The upshot is our research scientists can build a picture of the shapes and chemical characteristics of molecules that hold promise as an active substance and work out how to synthesise them in quantities large enough for the first stages of testing.

Computer modelling can also help us predict whether a molecule, while it might have been a promising active substance, will be more inclined to prompt resistance in a pest; and give an early indication of its likely environmental and human safety. That way we can quickly rule out those which will never make it to the market before investing too much time and effort in further R&D.

Next time we’ll look at the increasing role of natural compounds as the starting point for new crop protection products.

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