University of Canterbury biotechnologist creates biodegradable coating to protect crops

A novel system for protecting plants from pests, infection and adverse weather has been awarded one of the top prizes in the University of Canterbury’s (UC) Tech Jumpstart competition. Will greater glory follow or, more importantly, can it help save the planet?

Associate professor David Leung, from UC’s School of Biological Sciences, entered the annual competition held by UC’s Research & Innovation department – winning $20,000 towards his research. His project also won the WNT Ventures prize, garnering a further $35,000 of practical services with the technology-based incubator.

The system Leun developed is designed to protect crops during critical stages of the plant lifecycle by way of a biodegradable coating. It has the potential to protect much of New Zealand’s food exports, including kiwifruit, apples, citrus and grapes.

Once fully-developed, the proposed project would provide new tools or management options to growers. Needless to say, Leung is a firm believer in its potential. “Good plant growth in orchards and other horticultural industries contribute heavily to economic well-being,” he says. “This is important in terms of export earnings as well as job opportunities.”

WNT Ventures investment manager Jon Sandbrook is also a believer. “There a lot of big complex problems to solve in this sector, and people like David Leung are using smart agricultural science to do that,” he says.

Sandbrook adds that Leung’s achievement is also proof that world-changing innovations are continuing to come out of Aotearoa at a blistering pace. “We’ve been involved in the Tech Jumpstart competition for the last couple of years and we are so impressed with the calibre of entries,” he says. “This reflects very well on the individuals at UC but also their R&I team. They do a great job of encouraging commercialisation.

“For WNT, as investors we are looking for ideas with a global potential and this one absolutely has that. Innovative tech in crop protection and enhancement always attracts a lot of interest and we have no doubt this will be the same.”

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