Institute for Sustainable Horticulture receives award for biopesticide research

The award will bring more opportunities to the university and program

Deborah Henderson, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture at KPU (submitted)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Institute for Sustainable Horticulture recently won the $100,000 Synergy Award for innovation from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada.

The institute won the for discovering baculovirus biopesticides.

Dr. Deborah Henderson from the Institute and former KPU student Michelle Franklin worked with Sylvar Technologies on the project to develop the baculovirus biopesticides.

Sylvar Technologies is a company that offers “environmentally safe and efficacious products for Integrated Pest Management Programs in Canada and in forestry in the USA.”

The baculovirus biopesticides were discovered coincidentally by Michelle Franklin while she was collecting looper caterpillars from the greenhouses and found a sick one. Eventually, they discovered that the caterpillar has an illness caused by a baculovirus species.

It was purified, and then it ended up with Sylvar Technologies, who wanted to commercialize it, Henderson says.

“Sylvar was looking for commercialization partners, and we were looking for partners in baculoviruses, and we were able to collaborate on this particular project,” she says.

She says that the baculovirus species is native to B.C. and they are non-toxic, safe, and natural for use as a biopesticide, making them the perfect organism to use if a person wants to target a particular pest in a growing system.

“If you’re relying on pesticides and chemical pesticides, there’s nothing that specific, so when you spray, you kill everything, including the beneficial.”

Biological solutions like viruses are much better at managing pests and diseases since they work well with “integrated pest management programs,” she says.

“The idea is not to kill [the pests],” she says. “Just reduce pesticide use, and protect the biological controls that are out there doing a job for free.”

Henderson says winning the award could bring KPU and the Institute some recognition for their efforts.

“It’s always nice to be able to tell people that, you know, we’ve been recognized for what we’re doing, and we’re doing a good job,” she says. “It builds momentum. It’s really good for Kwantlen to … have any kind of awards. Really, I mean, it’s recognition for the university, too.”

Henderson says she’s also developing a fungal biocontrol organism, which was discovered between 2010 and 2011. The first product from this discovery is in preparation to be presented to Health Canada.

The process has taken almost ten years, which is usually how long it takes to develop microbial fungicides or bioinsecticides according to Henderson. After it’s submitted to Health Canada, it takes another one or one and a half years to be approved for registration in the country.

After it’s approved, other companies like Sylvar Technologies could be interested in partnering with the team.

“We know our environment is in trouble, we know climate change is going to challenge us, we need all the biological options we can get,” says Henderson.

“We’re just right in a place where we can actually help and do something about it. Which is very, very satisfying to know that the things you do are actually helpful.”