Institute develops process to protect groundwater
Weizmann Institute of Science signs agreement to commercialize technology that impedes permeation of toxic pesticides.
Alon Tal testing water supply with the help of water engineer Nader al-Khateeb. Photo: Courtesy Alon Tal
The commercial arm of the Weizmann Institute of Science has signed an agreement
with an agrochemicals firm to commercialize a new technology that impedes the
permeation of toxic pesticides into groundwater, the companies have
As enormous amounts of pesticides continue to be used around
the world in an effort to increase the global demand for food, the durable toxic
chemicals can often seep into the soil and remain there for years, thereby
contaminating the groundwater, the firms explained. Aiming to reduce the risks
of such environmental contamination, Prof. Brian Berkowitz and Dr. Ishai Dror
developed a system at the Rehovot school’s department of environmental sciences
and energy research that is designed to safely eradicate the toxins.
system employs environmentally friendly substances called prophyrins, which act
as catalysts and electron transporters and are able to dissolve toxic substances
found in the soil into harmless ones after they have served their pest-killing
Occurring in a deep layer that lacks oxygen, the chemical
reaction for dissolution happens below the layer containing plant roots, the
After Berkowitz and Dror developed the technology,
the Weizmann Institute’s business arm – Yeda Research and Development Co. –
signed a commercialization agreement with the firm Catalyst AgTech, a member of
Mofet Venture Accelerator in the Trendlines investment fund group. Using Yeda’s
patent, which is registered in Europe and in the US, Catalyst AgTech will be
developing and commercializing the technology around the world, the companies
“Currently, there is no effective pest control alternative which
is similar to the substances used today,” said Shalom Nachshon, entrepreneur and
CEO of Catalyst AgTech.
“Nevertheless, pesticides such as Atrazine, whose
use was prohibited in Europe several years ago due to its potential to reach
groundwater level and is widely used today for corn and wheat crops in US and
Canada, remain in the soil for many years and may cause severe environmental
damage when they permeate into soil.
Adding the technology to the soil,
agriculturalists will be able to have an equally successful crop without
damaging the soil or the groundwater,” Nachshon explained.
successful experimentation had originally only occurred in laboratory
conditions, Catalyst AgTech is now conducting tests under field conditions and
is determining the appropriate pairings of pesticides and catalysts for the
chemical dissolution reaction, the company said.
Shay Marcus, the chief
business officer at Yeda, stressed that this latest innovation “may greatly
contribute to improving the quality of life for all of us.”
continue to bridge between the scientists of the institute in Israel and abroad
while finding the business high road without obstacles, combined with rational
risk management,” Marcus said.