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New biodegradable coating to protect crops

A novel system for protecting plants from pests, infection and adverse weather has been awarded one of the top prizes in the University of Canterbury’s (UC) Tech Jumpstart competition.

Biotechnology expert Associate Professor David Leung, of UC’s School of Biological Sciences, entered the annual competition held by UC’s Research & Innovation department and won $20,000 towards his research. His project also won the WNT Ventures prize, garnering a further $35,000 of practical services with the technology-based incubator.

Assoc Prof Leung’s system is designed to protect agricultural crops during critical stages of the plant lifecycle by way of a biodegradable coating for the plant. It has the potential to protect much of New Zealand’s horticultural exports, including kiwifruit, apples, citrus and grapes.

Once fully-developed, the proposed project would provide new tools or management options to growers.

“Good plant growth in orchards and other horticultural industries contribute heavily to economic well-being,” Assoc Prof Leung says.

“This is important in terms of export earnings as well as job opportunities.”

The potential to have more control over the impact of weather and pests on plants would have a substantial bearing on growers’ businesses.

WNT Ventures investment manager Jon Sandbrook believes Assoc Prof Leung’s project will attract global interest.

“There a lot of big complex problems to solve in this sector and people like David Leung are using smart agricultural science to do that,” he says.

“We’ve been involved in the Tech Jumpstart competition for the last couple of years and we are so impressed with the calibre of entries. This reflects very well on the individuals at UC but also their R&I team. They do a great job of encouraging commercialisation.

“For WNT, as investors we are looking for ideas with a global potential and this one absolutely has that. Innovative tech in crop protection and enhancement always attracts a lot of interest and we have no doubt this will be the same,” Mr Sandbrook says.


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