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AmebaGone’s alternative to antibiotics may aid organic farming

When it comes to the best and healthiest organic plants, it’s difficult to avoid disease and harmful bacteria taking over the crops. AmebaGone provides a solution.

This Madison-based startup has developed an all-natural alternative to antibiotics that treats bacterial diseases of plants. The company’s product eliminates the disease-causing bacteria while leaving no toxic remains.

AmebaGone relies on benign, soil-dwelling organisms known as Dictyosteid discoideum, or Dicty. This organism consumes bacteria that cause diseases in plants. This includes those found in biofilm, a group of bacteria that can live on other cellular structures such as proteins, which antibiotics can’t even do.

“Biofilm is the natural defense mechanism of bacteria. You can think of them as a suit of armor,” said Cheryl Vickroy, president and CEO of AmebaGone. “If you think of biofilm as a way that bacteria protect themselves against their death, we can destroy biofilm-enmeshed pathogens, which nearly any other solution cannot.”

AmebaGone started in 2010, and its team has been working to find ways to make organic crops sustainable and healthy. The company was profiled as part of an ongoing business series written by UW-Madison students.

AmebaGone has tested its products in professional field trials in apple orchards. The products are priced similarly to antibiotics.

Antibiotics have been used since the 1950s to control bacterial agricultural pests. Today, those antibiotics are not available to certified organic growers. However, organic growers have expressed the need for effective alternatives for their plants.

“It’s a very serious problem, and one that customers are really looking forward to receiving a solution for,” Vickroy said.

In 2014, antibiotics were banned from being used to treat a disease called FireBlight in organic orchards. FireBlight is a major bacterial disease that has undermined the success of organic orchards. It can devastate orchards, which unfortunately has been a struggle for farmers to avoid. Ever since, organic farmers have been on the hunt for an effective alternative.

“The idea behind the FireBlight treatment was particularly well fit to the fact that there are no other good solutions for treatment of FireBlight,” Vickroy said. “People are literally losing their orchards.”

Without proper effective treatments for bacterial pathogens, the World Health Organization has warned that infectious disease could return to its former prominence as the number one killer of human beings, just as it was prior to the discovery of antibiotics.

With not just the farmer in mind, but also humanity, Cheryl Vickroy and her team are solving many potential issues.

“If we can help reduce the overuse of antibiotics, it will be less frequent that bacteria will develop a resistance,” she said.

As of right now, Dicty has been proven to destroy disease and biofilm-enmeshed pathogens. Most alternatives are not able to kill the pathogens found in the biofilm as effectively; that sets this product apart from others.

If all goes as planned, AmebaGone will launch its first commercial product for agriculture by 2019.

By Sydney Rider
Rider is a graduate of the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.


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