A new laboratory has been opened at Hilldale Research Centre in Wickham to develop novel fungicide compounds, based on groundbreaking research at the University of Sussex, as a result of the institution’s first ever industrial partnership.

Work planned at the site will help to drive vital research into the control of respiratory activity in fungi which attack the world’s major cereal crops. With the help of a recent £1m award, including a contribution of £602,390 from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Professor Tony Moore, of the University of Sussex, will collaborate with Agform Ltd to accelerate the development of fungicide resistance inhibitors.

Professor Tony Moore (right) and John Misselbrook, MD of Agform Ltd, open the AOX laboratory

“The implications of this ongoing research are potentially huge, both in terms of protecting vital yields of wheat, barley and rice across the world, and reducing the environmental damage caused by multiple applications of fungicides,” said Professor Moore.

Fungal pathogens are adept at developing resistance to treatments by expressing an enzyme called the alternative oxidase (AOX). The novel compounds formulated by Professor Moore prevent this enzyme from being functional. With further development, these compounds may be effective for longer and require less frequent spraying of crops.

The AOX Lab represents a significant investment in UK industry and innovation, as the only UK-owned commercial research facility for new agrochemical actives, in the country. Agform’s existing nanotechnology capability is a successful example of the government’s investment in innovative technology and research, with a number of commercial products already derived from this technology currently being marketed in the UK and the EU. It was partly funded by two grants from the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK), supported by DEFRA and BBSRC.

“Agform Limited are delighted to provide the facilities to support this project,” said John Misselbrook, Managing Director of Agform. “Our collaboration with the University of Sussex has inspired the company to strengthen our focus on R&D, and particularly to solving the international problem of resistance to agrochemicals. Any new product identified by this collaboration could be very important to the cultivation of cereal crops in the UK, and valuable to a global market.”

Dr Ian Carter, Director of Research and Enterprise, University of Sussex, said: “This is a great step towards realising the full commercial potential of Professor Moore’s BBSRC-funded research, having worked closely with the Sussex Innovation Centre over a number of years, supported by the University’s Enterprise Development Fund. It is essential that we support our researchers in maximising the impact of their work, and a big part of this is by taking the opportunity to bring innovative products to market.”

AlternOx fungicides have been developed to address the escalating challenge of fungicide resistance, and are set to help reduce environmental damage and increase crop yields.