Syngenta Crop Protection and agtech startup Enko on Thursday announced a “novel chemistry” to control fungal disease in crops.
The discovery could help farmers control diseases affecting cereal crops, the companies said. Syngenta and Enko are now taking the next steps to develop a new and effective fungicide.
“By proving that digital tools can cut discovery time for new crop protection solutions, we hope to accelerate the digital transformation shift within the agricultural industry as growers’ needs become more urgent,” Enko CEO and founder Jacqueline Heard said in a statement.
The "breakthrough" discovery was made by screening billions of chemical molecules within Enko’s DNA-encoded libraries and then using artificial intelligence and machine learning models to identify potent, selective molecules. The process significantly reduces the time required for research and development.
The companies have signed a new agreement to discover chemical starting points for a new herbicide.
Fungal pathogens are a hairy problem for growers, spreading disease that hurts production. As a result of this, farmers lose up to one-fifth of their yields each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, worth about $200 billion in damages. These losses are expected to worsen as climate change intensifies and fungal infections continue to build resistances to existing fungicides, experts say.
To unlock next-generation fungal control, researchers will need to dig deeper into plants' biological makeup.
“Future research in this field should focus on unraveling the intricate molecular and ecological mechanisms underlying the responses of both plants and fungi to climate change,” a group of scientists and researchers wrote in a peer-reviewed journal published last month.