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Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge: 2001 Small Business Award

EDEN Bioscience Corporation (technology acquired by Plant Health Care, Inc.)


Messenger®: A Green Chemistry Revolution in Plant Production and Food Safety


Innovation and Benefits: EDEN Bioscience Corporation discovered and commercialized harpins, a new class of nontoxic, naturally occurring, biodegradable proteins, as an alternative to traditional pesticides. Harpins activate a plant's defense and growth mechanisms, thereby increasing crop yield and quality, and minimizing crop losses. EDEN manufactures Messenger®, its commercially available, harpin-containing, EPA-approved product, using a water-based fermentation system.

Summary of Technology: In today's competitive agricultural environment, growers must maximize crop productivity by enhancing yield and minimizing crop losses. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that annual losses to growers from pests reach $300 billion worldwide. In addition to basic agronomic practices, growers generally have two alternatives to limit these economic losses and increase yields: (1) use traditional chemical pesticides; or (2) grow crops that are genetically engineered for pest resistance. Each of these approaches has come under increasing criticism from a variety of sources worldwide including environmental groups, government regulators, consumers, and labor advocacy groups. Harpin technology, developed by EDEN Bioscience Corporation, provides growers with a highly effective alternative approach to crop production that addresses these concerns.

EDEN's harpin technology is based on a new class of nontoxic, naturally occurring proteins called harpins, which were first discovered by Dr. Zhongmin Wei, EDEN's Vice President of Research, and his colleagues during his tenure at Cornell University. Harpin proteins trigger a plant's natural defense systems to protect against disease and pests and simultaneously activate certain plant growth systems without altering the plant’s DNA. When applied to crops, harpins increase plant biomass, photosynthesis, nutrient uptake, and root development, and, ultimately, lead to greater crop yield and quality.

Unlike most agricultural chemicals, harpin-based products are produced in a water-based fermentation system that uses no harsh solvents or reagents, requires only modest energy inputs, and generates no hazardous chemical wastes. Fermentation byproducts are fully biodegradable and safely disposable. In addition, EDEN uses low-risk ingredients to formulate the harpin protein-based end product. Approximately 70 percent of the dried finished product consists of an innocuous, food-grade substance that is used as a carrier for harpin protein.

The result of this technology is a U.S. EPA-approved product called Messenger® that has been demonstrated on more than 40 crops to effectively stimulate plants to defend themselves against a broad spectrum of viral, fungal, and bacterial diseases, including some for which there currently is no effective treatment. In addition, Messenger® has been shown through an extensive safety evaluation to have virtually no adverse effect on any of the organisms tested, including mammals, birds, honey bees, plants, fish, aquatic invertebrates, and algae. Only 0.004–0.14 pounds of harpin protein per acre per season is necessary to protect crops and enhance yields. As with most proteins, harpin is a fragile molecule that is degraded rapidly by UV and natural microorganisms and has no potential to bioaccumulate or to contaminate surface or groundwater resources.

Deployment of harpin technology conserves resources and protects the environment by reducing total agricultural inputs and partially replacing many higher-risk products. Using environmentally benign harpin protein technology, growers for the first time in the history of modern agriculture will be able to harness the innate defense and growth systems of crops to substantially enhance yields, improve crop quality, and reduce reliance on conventional agricultural chemicals.

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