The Chemical-Biological Matrix: Where Boundaries Merge and Solutions Converge

The Chemical-Biological Matrix: Where Boundaries Merge and Solutions Converge

The chemical-biological integration holds the key to unlocking novel solutions that address critical challenges such as nutrient use efficiency, insecticide resistance, and environmental sustainability…

At least 40 per cent of the population today is alive and has access to food only due to the use of chemical inputs in agriculture. The green revolution was possible due to synthetic fertilisers. Despite the significant role played by chemical inputs in modern agriculture, it is crucial to confront their limitations and acknowledge the emerging areas of concern. Excessive use of chemicals in agriculture has indeed come at a significant cost, impacting various aspects of our environment, biodiversity, and human health. It’s difficult to overlook the impact fertilisers alone have on economies. Globally, governments provide substantial subsidies for chemical fertilisers to support agricultural production. For instance, in 2019, the total fertiliser subsidies across 89 countries amounted to approximately US$75 billion (FAO, 2021). Examples of countries heavily subsidising fertilisers include China, India, and the United States, where billions of dollars are allocated annually to support their agricultural sectors (FAO, 2021).

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The use of harmful insecticides, pesticides and herbicides has resulted in severe ecological consequences, including the loss of species and threats to biodiversity. In the United States, the cost of managing herbicide-resistant weeds was estimated to be over US$1 billion annually (Heap, 2020). This cost includes expenses related to additional herbicide applications, manual labour, and reduced crop yields. The intensive use of chemicals in agriculture has raised concerns about the declining nutritional content of food crops. Several studies have indicated a decrease in essential nutrients, such as minerals and vitamins, in fruits, vegetables, and grains over the past few decades. This ‘silent hunger’ remains one of the most overlooked aspects of modern agriculture.

The Big Divide

The development of agricultural solutions, whether in the realm of chemicals or biologicals, has traditionally occurred in separate silos. Research and development efforts have largely remained compartmentalised, with chemical-focused corporations often overlooking the potential of biological farm inputs. This divide was partly due to the complexity of biological sciences and the challenges in distilling their mode of action into clear and concise terms.

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Fortunately, the landscape is changing, and chemical companies are now beginning to integrate biologicals into their dedicated research and development programmes. However, the predominant focus remains on finding replacements or alternatives to chemicals, without fully exploring the potential synergies between the two approaches.

Breaking Down the Dilos

To truly unlock the power of agricultural innovation, these silos of operation need to be broken down. Instead of adopting an either/or approach, it is essential to recognise the value of combining chemicals and biologicals in a harmonious manner. By embracing synergy, we can leverage the strengths of both approaches to develop novel and more sustainable solutions for agriculture. This paradigm shift requires a focus on the holistic understanding of the complexities of plant biology and ecosystem dynamics that have largely been ignored. It necessitates breaking free from the traditional confines of isolated research and embracing a unified approach that transcends the boundaries of chemical and biological sciences.

Some avenues

Nutrient Use Efficiency

One area where the integration of chemicals and biologicals has shown remarkable potential is in improving nutrient use efficiency. Scientific studies have consistently shown that molecules targeting nitrogen uptake and utilisation can significantly reduce synthetic fertiliser requirements while maintaining or even enhancing crop yields. For instance, a study conducted by Smith et al. (2018) found that the application of specific microbial inoculants improved nitrogen utilisation efficiency in soybean crops, resulting in a 40 per cent reduction in nitrogen fertiliser usage without compromising yield. The studies provide evidence that the combination of biological and targeted chemical inputs can revolutionise crop production by reducing environmental impacts, minimising input costs, and ensuring sustainable agricultural practices.

Resistance Management

Effective management of insecticide and pesticide residues is another critical area where the integration of chemicals and biologicals can bring about significant benefits. Traditional approaches focused solely on eradicating pests have led to the development of resistance, rendering these chemicals less effective over time. However, by adopting a combined approach, we can tackle resistance development and extend the lifespan of these chemicals in the market. Research by Davis et al. (2019) demonstrated that targeting xenobiotic pathways in insects can overcome resistance and improve the efficacy of insecticides. By identifying and disrupting key metabolic pathways involved in resistance mechanisms, scientists can develop innovative solutions to combat pest populations effectively.

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Additionally, the manipulation of microbial communities within insects has shown promising results in pest management. Chen et al. (2021) conducted groundbreaking research revealing that altering the microbiota of certain insect species can reduce their tolerance to pesticides. By understanding the intricate relationship between insects and their associated microbes, we can design novel approaches that enhance the effectiveness of chemical control methods while minimising adverse environmental impacts.

Unlocking Novel Solutions

The integration of chemicals and biologicals offers a multitude of opportunities for developing novel solutions in agriculture. By combining the precise targeting capabilities of chemicals with the sustainable and eco-friendly aspects of biologicals, we can address various challenges faced by farmers and the environment. For instance, the use of smart delivery systems, such as nanoencapsulation, enables the controlled release of chemical compounds, enhancing their efficacy and reducing environmental impact (Li et al., 2020). This technology ensures that chemicals are delivered precisely to the intended target, minimising off-target effects and optimising their performance.

A Paradigm Shift of Chemical-Biological Integration

The debate between chemicals and biologicals in agriculture should be reframed as an exploration of their complementary potential. The integration of these approaches, supported by robust scientific research, holds the key to unlocking novel solutions that address critical challenges such as nutrient use efficiency, insecticide resistance, and environmental sustainability. By embracing this synergy, we can foster a more resilient and productive agricultural system that benefits both farmers and the planet.

(Views expressed in the article are author’s own. Dr. Renuka Diwan is the co-founder & CEO of BioPrime Agrisolutions. BioPrime Agrisolutions is developing agri biologicals with time-proven biomolecules, life-friendly chemistry, smart material and energy use.)

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About Dr. Renuka Diwan

Dr. Renuka Diwan is the co-founder & CEO of BioPrime Agrisolutions. BioPrime Agrisolutions is developing agri biologicals with time-proven biomolecules, life-friendly chemistry, smart material and energy use.

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