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Press release in BioRegio STERN 03-08-2013

08.03.2013 Cutting-edge farmers employ PCR analysis

IDENTXX receives federal subsidies for the development of new diagnosis solutions for crop protection

IDENTXX GmbH identifies the best means of successfully combating a particular weed using molecular diagnostic analysis. Now the Stuttgart-based company and its partners from research and industry are to receive subsidies from the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). The aim of the project is to achieve a sustained reduction in the use of chemical crop protection agents.

In the spring of 2013, the farmer has to do more than plough the fields and scatter. He sends out experts with highly specialised tools to his fields, and uses their diagnostic findings to decide if he needs to plough, fertilise or spray. To keep agricultural yields high, growers have to employ cutting-edge methods. They ensure that only the highest-yielding seed is used, the ground is worked to its best and chemical weed-killers are only used when absolutely necessary. Stuttgart-based IDENTXX GmbH has specialised in precisely this issue. It uses molecular diagnostic analyses to identify the best way to combat a weed successfully and sustainably. “It is like antibiotics in human medicine,” explains Dr. Frank Brändle, Managing Partner of IDENTXX GmbH. “Weeds develop resistance to certain active agents. Once this becomes evident in the fields, it is often too late for the farmer to use an alternative herbicide, and he has to expect crop shortfalls.” This means that the diagnostics company is particularly busy in spring. Samples of various plants come into the laboratory by the boxful and have to be tested for resistant genes using its proprietary PCR analyses – Polymerase Chain Reaction.

Together with other partners from research and industry, i.e. the Department of Herbology at the University of Hohenheim, crop protection agent manufacturer DuPont de Nemours (Deutschland) GmbH and Heinz Walz GmbH, IDENTXX is now developing another tool to enable fast analysis, even in the field. With the help of a special imaging procedure from Walz, this technology is designed to quickly identify whether a weed is exhibiting “stress” – that is to say, whether or not a herbicide is working. This is where the expertise of IDENTXX comes in. “We have the broadest range of identification systems for herbicide-resistant genes in weeds in Europe,” says Dr. Brändle.

Naturally, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection was also quick to recognise the potential of this system solution. The development project recently started receiving financial support through the innovation funding programme, sponsored by the Federal Office for Agriculture and Food. “We were particularly pleased to be presented with the grant notification by Secretary of State Dr. Robert Kloos. It is a great honour, and underlines the importance of this project,” says Dr. Brändle. “However, funded projects make up only a fraction of our activities. On the operational side, we have been acting for customers all over Europe since the company was founded in 2009.” To ensure existing crop protection agents can continue to be used effectively in the future, manufacturers regularly conduct control investigations and, in doing so, rely on the expertise of the Stuttgart-based company. Even tiny changes in a single nucleotide can lead to resistance in a plant – the IDENTXX method identifies precisely these changes immediately.