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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Exosect: an innovative electrostatic technology providing environmentally friendly pest control

In the 1990s, University of Southampton biological scientist Professor Philip Howse invented an eco-friendly and effective way to control pests using innovative electrostatic wax particle technology. Since 2001, spin-out company Exosect® has been developing his work pioneering more sustainable pest and disease control solutions to tackle a wide range of problems throughout the food supply chain. As the world needs to produce more food, amid political, regulatory and macro-economic pressures, Exosect provides a range of sustainable tools to control damaging pests which will help ensure greater agricultural efficiency without recourse to potentially harmful agro-chemicals.

Research challenge

During the 1990s, motivated by the serious health and environmental side effects of synthetic pesticides, biological scientists at the University of Southampton began to search for a more environmentally friendly, sustainable alternative. Professor Howse was inspired by the trapping mechanism of pitcher plants and patented the idea that a natural or synthetic powder with electrostatic properties could be used in pest control management. After the patent was published in 1994, the Professor’s research group worked on the proof of concept, developing the idea to formulate a unique electrostatic wax powder, Entostat.

The first application of Entostat was in a cockroach trap invented by the group. A lure attracts the cockroaches, then the powder destabilises them and they fall into the trap – the same mechanism employed by the pitcher plant. In 1999, the trap won a Prince of Wales Award for Innovation; recognition that helped attract investment funding from several business angels. Researchers then demonstrated that the bi-polar electrostatic properties of Entostat cause it to stick to an insect’s cuticle for up to 48 hours after contact.

Laboratory and field trials demonstrated that Entostat could be used to deliver active ingredients to insect populations. Researchers then explored the idea that combining Entostat powder with pheromones could disrupt mating cycles and provide an environmentally friendly bio-control. In addition, when combined with conventional synthetic chemicals, Entostat’s targeted delivery reduces the volumes of chemical required. This research and invention underpinned the formation of University spin out company, Exosect, in 2001.

Context

Rising global populations, changing climate, and growing food demand are forcing us to employ increasingly intensive farming methods. By 2050, food production must increase by a projected 70 per cent to meet the needs of the growing population.

However, it is estimated that a staggering 40 per cent of all food and fibre is lost to field and storage pests. More and more synthetic pesticides are being used in attempts to control these threats, a process which is becoming increasingly unsustainable.

Professor Guy Poppy and colleagues at the University of Southampton have worked with the team at Exosect to develop Professor Howse’s original invention for other agricultural applications.

Our solution

Since its spin out from the University of Southampton, Exosect’s innovative and pioneering approach to pest and disease control has proven both sustainable and award winning. The company now employs 20 staff and has attracted more than £12 million in investment. Growing recognition of the environmental benefits of Exosect’s products resulted in an award for Best New Product at the Society for Food Hygiene and Technology Awards in 2008. Exosect also won its category in the Guardian Global Cleantech 100 awards in 2009 and 2010. Exosect’s products are now at work along the global food supply chain. Among its achievements, ExomitePro, which treats against varroa mite in bees, helps protect the insects from one of the suspected causes of colony collapse. In 2010, the rights to ExomitePro were sold to Bayer CropScience for several million pounds.

Exosex CM uses pheromones to disrupt the mating of codling moths. This is Exosect’s most successful product to date with an estimated five per cent market share for codling moth protection in apples and pears. In 2010, Sainsbury’s highlighted its commitment to reducing pesticide residues by announcing that this product would be used on its UK apples.

In trials in India, Exosect’s yellow stem borer product improved rice yields by up to 18 per cent, compared to conventional pesticides. The trials also found an 80 per cent increase in helpful insects, including a species of dragonfly that eats mosquito larvae. Exosect is currently licensing the rights to this product.

Our impact

Professor Howse’s original invention at the University of Southampton is now making a real difference to the productivity of agriculture around the world. Harnessing eco-friendly and sustainable technologies, Exosect products are controlling pests and curbing diseases, without harming other insects or nearby wildlife.

As the world recognises it must produce more food to feed its growing population, it needs to increase crop yields. Exosect is a major contributor to this ambitious aim and will help farmers become more productive without relying on potentially harmful agrochemicals.

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Professor Guy Poppy
Professor Guy Poppy

Professor Guy Poppy talks about one of the most difficult Global Challenges of the 21st century -- achieving global food security. Guy detailed the complexity of the four pillars of food security and how the Millenium Development Goal associated with hunger and poverty is interlinked with many of the other MDG's. Guy proposed an approach to address both food and ecological security against a backdrop of Climate Change and significant Demographic pressures.

Internal news stories

 

 

Internal publications

 

 

External news stories

 

  • The Global Fruit December 2012

    UK: Exosect licenses to be bait for Bayer-AgraQuest type deal

  • Seedbuzz 1 February 2010

    Exosect moves forward with food security project in Africa: Protecting maize from post-harvest pests

  • China National News 4 October 2007

    Exosect to Present at International Plant Protection Congress

 

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