Pheromones offer one of the most powerful solutions for environmentally and ecologically friendly pest control. Yet, their use has been limited to baiting traps and disrupting mating for the past 60 years. At Pheronym, we believe pheromones can do much more. Pheronym is unlocking the potential of pheromones and revolutionizing their use in the global pest control market.
Pheromones are signals that are released from one organism and affect the development, physiology and social behavior of other members of the same species. Many organisms, including fish, insects, and mammals use it for their social communication such as aggregating, dispersing, and finding food and mates. They are species-specific, nontoxic, effective at very low concentrations and safe for nontarget organisms. In short, they are the dream pest control agents.
As a scientist, I wondered: “Why are pheromones used in such a limited way, even though they have excellent features and benefits?” As an entrepreneur, I have answers. When I first decided to commercialize pheromones of beneficial nematodes, which are microscopic roundworms that attack insects, the first question I was asked was, “Is it a broad spectrum?”. The product should be able to make money. When a product is broad-spectrum, meaning it has a wide range of applications, raising capital to bring it to market is a lot easier. Highly specific pesticides have a limited market but the product development cost is the same as for a broad spectrum pesticide. The problem with pheromones is that they are species-specific. The next question my co-founder and I had was “How can we turn this problem into a solution?”
The answer lied in understanding the biopesticide market. The biopesticide market has three major segments: 1- biochemical pesticides (including pheromones, attractants, and repellents), 2- plant-incorporated pesticide (the most widely used one is the Bt. toxin), 3- biological control organisms/predators such as ladybugs and beneficial nematodes. Each segment of the biopesticide market has different problems. Pheromones are species-specific leading to narrow markets. Plant incorporated pesticides are genetically modified organisms, which have an image problem. Their success has also lead to insects evolving resistance. Biocontrol agents can be species-specific or broad-spectrum, but they are living organisms and have a short shelf life which can impact efficacy in the field. We decided to look at the market from a different angle. Instead of focusing on the weakness on the business side, we decided to focus on the biological strength of each market and integrate the biological strengths to make a strong business solution. We can use the pheromones’ specificity (biological strength) to improve the reliability and efficacy of biocontrol organisms which have a broad host range (biological strength). That was the aha moment!!. With this approach, we can still preserve pheromones’ features and benefits for environmentally friendly pest control and make them a superior option for pest control.
We are ushering in a new wave of pheromones. Here is how our first product Nemastim with beneficial nematodes works. Nemastim is a blend of nematode pheromones that controls beneficial nematode behavior. Beneficial nematodes are microscopic roundworms that are used to control a broad spectrum of insects. One of the major problems with commercial nematodes for insect control is their consistency. One of the keys to consistency is effective dispersal, which is controlled by pheromones. Our pheromone blend tells the beneficial nematodes that they are hungry and need to disperse to find food. Nemastim is applied to beneficial nematodes before field application and tells them to disperse and hunt, leading to increased insect encounter, infection, and death. The pheromone technology will increase beneficial nematodes market share and make beneficial nematodes competitive in new markets.
Currently, we are at Indiebio, the world’s largest seed biotech accelerator, and turning the pheromones into a product that doubles the effectiveness of beneficial nematodes for biological pest control.
Founders: Dr. Fatma Kaplan is an accomplished scientist with experience in biology and chemistry. She discovered the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans sex pheromone. Mr. Karl Cameron Schiller has a BA in economics and a M.Sc. in pharmaceutical economics. Mr. Schiller and Dr. Kaplan started Pheronym to turn pheromone technology into a product and provide effective, nontoxic pest control to farmers, growers, and homeowners. We believe that farmers and consumers should have an effective, ecologically friendly option for controlling pests.