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Published June 16, 2014, 10:18 AM

MSU designs ag disease technology

A disease-fighting bacterium discovered at Montana State University is now heading for regulatory review in the U.S. and Canada, according to Certis USA, a top manufacturer of biological pesticides. The approval is the final hurdle in bringing the technology to market.

By: Sepp Jannotta, MSU News Service

BOZEMAN, Mont. — A disease-fighting bacterium discovered at Montana State University is now heading for regulatory review in the U.S. and Canada, according to Certis USA, a top manufacturer of biological pesticides. The approval is the final hurdle in bringing the technology to market.

Certis USA’s disease-fighting agent BmJ WG was discovered and named “Bacillus mycoides isolate J” by Barry Jacobsen, professor of plant sciences and plant pathology in MSU’s College of Agriculture. After isolating BmJ from healthy leaves in an otherwise disease-ridden sugar beet field in 1994, Jacobsen has shown that this naturally occurring bacterium is beneficial in fighting bacterial, viral and fungal diseases in a variety of crops. It works by activating the plants’ own immune defenses in a phenomenon known as systemic acquired resistance, or SAR.

“This is a technology that could save farmers around the world millions of dollars by providing disease control when used alone, reducing fungicide use when used in combination with fungicides and by helping to manage fungicide-resistance outbreaks,” Jacobsen says.

Certis USA’s move to put BmJ up for review by the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the California Department of Pesticide Registration and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency of Health Canada, comes after two years of intensive field trials coordinated by Certis USA against diseases in key crops.

Jacobsen says the trials included his research group at MSU, as well as scientists from universities and private groups across the country.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with the team that Certis has working on BmJ,” Jacobsen says of testing efforts that have been ongoing in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, California, Idaho and Washington. “These are top people in the (plant pathology) field, and they have shown efficacy data that confirms how well it’s working. I knew it worked, but I didn’t know it worked on some of the things they tested it on.”

Building on data from earlier trials by Jacobsen and collaborators targeting Cercospora leaf spot of sugar beets, potato virus Y and other important crop diseases, the Certis USA field development team found that BmJ is able to control gummy stem blight on cucurbits (family that includes watermelons, pumpkins and cucumbers), downy mildew on leafy vegetables, late and early blights of potatoes and bacterial leaf spot diseases of tomatoes and peppers.

Michael Dimock, director of field development at Certis USA, says, based on the levels of disease control attained in trials, the proposed labeling includes uses on potatoes, sugar beets, cucurbits, fruiting vegetables, lettuce, spinach and pecans.

“Over the last two years, we have expanded our focus and the result is that we’ve put in a label proposal to the EPA that considers a much wider array of crops because we’ve seen a broader spectrum of efficacy than we’d ever seen before,” Dimock says.

BmJ’s potential to tap an international market across a wide swath of the agricultural spectrum represents a major win for the land-grant university system’s goal of bringing technology to the citizens, says Rebecca Mahurin, director of MSU’s Office of Technology Transfer.

After investigating a Sidney sugar beet field overrun with Cercospora leaf spot 20 years ago, Jacobsen and his collaborators isolated more than 300 Bacillus bacteria found on the healthy leaves. They were looking for one that was special. Jacobsen found it in Bacillus mycoides isolate J (the J marked its place in the team’s A-B-C list of different Bacillus mycoides bacteria). Jacobsen and his team spent more than a decade examining its disease-fighting effects on sugar beets and potatoes. Along the way, in 2003, BmJ was licensed to Montana Microbial Products. In 2012, because of its expertise with biopesticides, Certis USA was selected in a sublicensing agreement to manufacture and market BmJ.

“We are so pleased with the news that BmJ is entering this phase,” Mahurin says. “Getting to this final step of bringing this MSU technology to farmers in Montana and around the world represents quite a huge investment of time and resources for Certis. It also validates two decades that Dr. Jacobsen has dedicated to BmJ, as well as the invaluable contributions from Cliff Bradley and Montana Microbial Products.”

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