AmebaGone uses benign organisms to attack pathogens in production crops

By Hannah Fricke

Protecting production crops against bacterial invasion is an eternal struggle for agriculture.

Antibiotics can’t address everything that poses a threat, and many pathogens have evolved to become resistant to antibiotics. Novel ways to address bacterial pathogens must be developed to keep crops safe and available for consumption.

In 2010, a group of five people had the idea of creating something that could compete against the bacterial pathogens that plague plants, specifically within the agricultural field. AmebaGone has gone on to develop products to accomplish this, and has now set its sights set on apples and potatoes.

The concept behind AmebaGone is a simple one: The best way to combat an antagonistic microorganism is with a benign microorganism. In that way, Dicty, a safe, free-living amoeba that consumes pathogenic bacteria, was developed. Now, AmebaGone can address multiple threats to a range of plant species through the long-acting Dicty amoeba.

AmebaGone was launched in Wisconsin and is focused on important Wisconsin crops. Every year, Wisconsin produces 50 million pounds (worth more than $24 million) of apples, as well as 3.26 billion pounds (worth about $353 million) of potatoes. Bacterial pathogens pose a serious threat to industries essential to the state, and AmebaGone is using its technology to address the biggest threats to these crops: Fire Blight in apples and Soft Rot in potato tubers.

One of the strongest assets of AmebaGone is the organic element of Dicty. As a natural amoeba, it provides an effective alternative to antibiotics, which cannot be used on organic operations.

Though AmebaGone is applicable and valuable to conventional operations, the sights were originally set on organic farms, which didn’t have an effective alternative to antibiotics until the introduction of Dicty. Fire Blight was the original target for AmebaGone, but now it is expanding its application to Soft Rot, which currently has no preventative treatment.

The importance of an alternative to antibiotic treatments is fundamental. Bacterial pathogens are developing immunity to antibiotics at an alarming rate, lowering the efficacy of antibiotic treatments for these devastating plant diseases.

The beauty of Dicty specifically is its natural origins. Unlike the other alternatives available in the market right now, Dicty does not carry the risk of bacterial resistance. The current treatment options — biologicals, fungicides and copper products — carry the risk of bacterial resistance, have a low efficacy, or negatively impact the crop itself.

AmebaGone is preparing for Environmental Protection Agency registration of its first products in the summer of 2019 and will pursue state registrations next, but has not yet begun this process. Company leaders do not anticipate any regulatory issues in this area.

AmebaGone is one of 25 finalists selected in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will conclude June 5-6 at Union South on the UW-Madison campus during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.

–Hannah Fricke recently graduated as a student in Life Sciences Communication and Dairy Science at the UW-Madison.