Innovation That Matters

Staple foods like wheat are threatened by herbicide-resistant weeds | Photo source Polina Rytova

A startup speeds up the development of safe herbicides

Agriculture & Energy

The startup screens potential herbicides quickly and at scale to identify new means of protecting crops


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Spotted: Herbicide-resistant weeds have grown in number from 38 in 1980 to 513 in 2022. Agriculture faces a significant challenge in overcoming this resistance while increasing outputs and decreasing environmental damage. Addressing the lack of innovation in herbicides over the past 30 years, UK startup MOA Technology is speeding up the process of identifying and commercialising new herbicides.

The company’s name comes from the scientific term ‘mode of action’ (MOA). An MOA is a specific way in which the chemistry of a herbicide interacts with plant biology to inhibit weed growth – how the herbicide actually affects the plant at a cellular level. As herbicide resistance grows, farmers need new MOAs that work differently to those found in traditional herbicides. But no new MOAs have been commercialised for decades, and the race is on to address this innovation gap.

This is where MOA Technology comes in. The startup tests tiny amounts of potential herbicides on miniaturised versions of whole plants. The reactions of these plants indicate whether a candidate chemical has a new MOA. As a result of this screening process, researchers can hone in on the compounds that show the most promise.

The key benefit of the startup’s approach is speed. Working with whole plants, rather than lab samples, allows thousands of data points to be gathered, speeding up the research pathway. Ultimately, MOA Technology’s platforms screen new compounds six times faster than the industry standard.

Safety is particularly important in the development of a herbicide, as many older farm chemicals are in the process of being withdrawn after years of study found them damaging to plant, animal, and human health. This is therefore another important focus for the company.

Having recently closed a $44 million (around €42 million) funding round, MOA Technology plans to expand its screening process, while progressing compounds showing weed-fighting promise to more advanced testing. Organisations interested in collaborating are invited to get in touch as the company continues to work towards bringing a range of new herbicides to market.

Cleaning up agriculture is a global challenge being addressed in a number of ways. Springwise has spotted a company that grows aquatic plants that require no fertiliser as a replacement for more resource-heavy soy. And researchers have discovered a particularly useful planting pattern that helps increase the yield of a crop.  

Written by: Keely Khoury



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