Sascha Eilmus

A New Beginning for Pest Control Research

On January 8, Bayer announced the opening of a new € 45 million greenhouse to support the research of Pest Control Biology and the development of novel technologies to increase global food security. Dr. Sascha Eilmus, Early Phase Biologist and Head of Hit Profiling, discusses the significance of this recent investment.

One of the advantages of a new year is that it provides all of us with an opportunity for a fresh perspective on how we manage our lives – both at home and at work. For the Pest Control Biology team, I’m excited to say that 2018 represents a “new beginning” of our research effort. On January 8, we celebrated the opening of a high-tech greenhouse in Monheim to aid our early-phase testing and assessment of potential technologies that one day may help farmers better protect their crops from destructive pests.

Pest Control Biology (PCB) is a crucial center of expertise for insect, mite and nematode control research activities. The global market for pest control across all disciplines, including Animal Health, is estimated at € 11 billion. And yet despite its size and importance, just five molecular target sites account for more than 85 percent of all sales globally. With so few targets, the rapid expansion of pest resistance is all but inevitable unless we can find novel ways to supplement our integrated approach to pest management.

For example, some of today’s pest control products have been used for 70 years and even the “new” and widely successful neonicotinoid class of chemistry was introduced about a quarter of a century ago. Clearly, finding the next generation of pest control is not an easy task. One way to accelerate our search for new products is by investing in infrastructure and processes that will improve the speed and quality of our research. I’m happy to report that our new greenhouse will enable us to do exactly that.

The footprint of the PCB greenhouse complex exceeds 11,000 m2 – a 60 percent increase in capacity when compared to our old facility. While some of this increase is needed to host a much more sophisticated mechanical infrastructure, it also includes 32 climate-controlled chambers and 133 greenhouse compartments. In fact, the number of greenhouse chambers is twice that of our previous greenhouse. The advanced climate control system will improve the sensitivity and quality needed to conduct experiments in such areas as plant physiology, precision phenotyping, plant health and of course rearing and testing of our many different pest species. And the new complex will permit more flexibility to accommodate long-term research, while minimizing the rate of retesting caused by invading pests (or beneficials), or by other quality control issues.

Improving the safety and performance of our research is reason enough to celebrate, but the PCB greenhouse also allows us to expand our scientific network with university and research institutions. Working more collaboratively is a key aspect of our research and will enable us to be more flexible and responsive to the needs of both commercial and regulatory interests – now and in the future. And while we will continue our research in small molecule development, this facility will also help us expand our work in seed growth, novel pests, seed services, microbials, biologicals, beneficials, and plant health.

Research greenhouses must be more than productive – they must be more sustainable, too. This is a real challenge because greenhouses are by definition “energy hogs” due to the high energy and water consumption needed to precisely maintain a stable environment for optimum plant growth. In addition to meeting today’s higher engineering standards, the PCB greenhouse was constructed with an innovative energy concept that reuses thermal energy for heating and precisely regulates temperatures through the use of storage tanks to draw warm or cold water, as needed. And it goes without saying that the new facility will use the latest equipment and automation to control treatments, as well as to ensure that any waste contaminants are properly contained, collected and disposed.

As a biologist and scientist, I’ve always been fascinated with the complex interaction between a living organism and its environment. Despite the massive infrastructure that is needed to properly investigate novel technologies for agriculture or animal health, there can be no substitute for understanding this interaction at its most intimate level. While some may question why Bayer would spend so much to build a new greenhouse, I would say that most of the farmers with whom I’ve spoken have no such reservations. They understand that this investment will help reveal the critical plant/pest relationships that may one day result in new agronomic solutions and lead to a more sustainable future.

Our PCB greenhouse is not only a visible symbol of Bayer’s commitment to science – it also represents a new beginning of how we intend to amplify our research effort. If you ever visit our Monheim campus, I invite you to stop by – you can’t miss it!

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