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Letting nature take its course.

Traditional anti-insecticides are anything but low impact. In most flower producing nations pesticide regulation is all but non-existent and many growers use chemicals that have been outlawed in the US and Europe. Although such chemicals are extremely dangerous, they boost output, enhance plant growth, suppress insects, mites and nematodes. While traditional pesticides have helped growers improve quality and increase production, they are not with out harmful side effects.

Recent World Resource Institute studies have shown that people exposed to many pesticides commonly used in flower production are more susceptible to invading viruses, bacteria, parasites, and tumors.

The idea of a natural alternative to pesticide has been well received by both flower growers and consumers. The organic niche-market is growing in the US and Europe, and an increasing number of people are choosing products – from T-shirts to produce – based on environmentally friendly production practices.

A new natural alternative to traditional pesticides called Messenger triggers basic plant defense mechanisms to fight disease and ward off insect attacks. The product promises to weed out the use of nasty chemicals and supply growers with fruitful harvests.

Messenger was developed by EDEN Bioscience, a US based company that specializes environmentally friendly agricultural production. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies the product as a biochemical pesticide, it does not directly kill anything. Instead, Messenger simply sends a "message" to the plant to protect itself.

The active ingredient in Messenger is harpin, a naturally occurring protein produced by bacteria commonly found in the environment. When Messenger is applied to a plant, harpin protein binds to the plant 's receptors. Upon binding, the Messenger-treated plant initiates a set of complex signaling pathways, causing natural gene expression and activating the plant's natural defense and growth systems.

As a result, Messenger can dramatically reduce or replace the need for many traditional chemical pesticides, thereby decreasing risk to the environment. Messenger is not currently registered for use or sale in the United States. EPA registration is anticipated within the next few weeks.

"All plants have natural and rigorous defense mechanisms that help protect them against disease and insect infestation," said Dr Zhongmin Wei, vice president and director of research at EDEN Bioscience." These responses have been occurring to some degree in all plants for eons. Scientists have been searching for agents that can effectively 'switch on' these plant defense mechanisms for years."

Dr.Wei and his colleagues at Cornell University discovered harpin protein. EDEN has further studied harpin protein and developed the commercial application of Messenger at its cutting-edge research and production facility in Wash.

"Messenger activates these insect and disease defense pathways before the plant is under attack," Dr.Wei added. "Once activated, a plant is better able to naturally protect itself against a broad spectrum of bacteria, viruses and fungi, plus repel, suppress or tolerate certain insects, mites and nematodes. In addition, these plant pathways enhance plant vigor and stress tolerance, and increase nutrient uptake and photosynthesis within the plant, generating higher yields and improved quality."

"For the first time ever, growers will have a product that displays an extraordinarily high level of human and environmental safety," said Jerry Butler, president and CEO of EDEN Bioscience. "This is the first product ever that both protects plants against a wide variety of pests while at the same time, improving quality, yield and overall crop performance."

Messenger has been found to be virtually non-toxic to mammals, birds, honeybees, plants and aquatic species. Because of this negligible toxicity, Messenger's packaging requires no special treatment and can be disposed of with a grower's normal refuse. It leaves no detectable residue on crops or in water – even immediately after application – and is rendered inactive by natural sunlight and microbes. Messenger rapidly degrades in the environment, and studies prove there is no concern of ground or surface water contamination. An additional environmental benefit is that Messenger is applied at an extremely low use rate – about one teaspoon of active ingredient is applied per acre.

Messenger was evaluated in more than 500 field trials in the United States, Mexico and China. More than 45 crops have been studied, including rose, cotton, citrus, wheat, rice, tomato, peanut, pepper, strawberry and cucumber.

"We are aware of no other product or compound currently being marketed, under development or described in scientific literature that can provide such a broad-based impact on so many crops," Butler continued. "Furthermore, because Messenger does not disrupt the natural or introduced populations of beneficial predators and parasites, it is an ideal product for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs. Messenger's unique mode of action makes it unlikely that pest resistance will develop."

By Luke Chambers, luke@florastream.com

 

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