Micropep Poised to Revolutionize the Future of Farming

Authored By: Dr. Mikael Courbot, Chief Technology Officer at Micropep

Between climate change, growing resistance to pesticides, and an ever-expanding human population, farmers are up against numerous challenges. At Micropep, we’re working to help farmers navigate these obstacles with revolutionary crop protection technology based on micropeptides, naturally occurring regulators of cellular physiology. The first of these powerful, environmentally friendly products, Promisin, is a broad-spectrum antifungal designed to target three devastating plant diseases: Asian soybean rust, phytophthora infections in potatoes, and mildews in grapes. Through this and future micropeptide-based products, Micropep is uniquely positioned to address these challenges, bolstering global food security.


State of the Field

Farmers must protect their crops from weeds, diseases, insects, and other environmental stressors like cold or drought to ensure healthy growth. However, in recent decades, farmers have faced a growing barrage of issues that impact their ability to produce a healthy crop reliably. Traditionally, farmers have used pesticides to protect crops from pests and weeds, but growing resistance to these tools now costs the U.S. agricultural sector $10 billion annually. Moreover, there is increased regulatory pressure against using these chemicals due to concerns about how they affect the environment and human health. GMO crops engineered to be stress-resistant are one solution that has seen some success in promoting plant health, but public perceptions of the long-term implications of GMOs have limited progress in this area.


One thing is clear: healthy crops produced by sustainable agricultural practices are critical for food security. Micropep offers a groundbreaking solution to fill this need. Instead of traditional chemical pesticides, our technology is based on micropeptides: short, naturally occurring amino acid chains that control plant health and susceptibility to disease. With this technology, Micropep is poised to revolutionize agriculture. But what are the micropeptides our technology is based on, and how do they work to promote plant health?


Micropeptide Fundamentals

Micropeptides are short 10-20 amino acid sequences. They modify cell biology to regulate the phenotype of a target organism in a highly specific manner. We are actively exploring various kinds of micropeptide-based technologies with the potential to improve crop health worldwide.


Micropep scientists first reported one type of micropeptide, miPEPs, in a 2015 Nature paper. Since then, we have uncovered countless intricacies about the role of micropeptides in plant and pathogen growth and function. This includes antimicrobial peptide (AMP) technology, on which our first product is based. The AMP technology used in Promisin disrupts fungal membranes. When administered to crops, cell walls of specific fungi infecting the plants develop holes, causing the microbes to lose homeostasis and die. This way, Promisin weakens the fungal infection so the plant can more easily overcome it.


We are also diligently pursuing the miPEPs technology first uncovered in 2015. miPEPs are short amino acid sequences coded for by the parent gene transcript that they act on. They exist in the cytoplasm and regulate microRNA levels whose presence decreases the transcription of the parent gene. When the plant experiences a change in its environment, it produces miPEPs that cause an increase in microRNA levels, reducing the expression of the master gene and rapidly changing plant phenotype. With miPEPs, we aim to encourage healthier crop attributes, such as a stronger immune system, bigger leaves, and stronger roots.


Because micropeptides are readily taken up by cells, micropeptide-based products can be sprayed on plants to produce a rapid, powerful phenotypic change without the need for genetic manipulation. In this way, micropeptides can be used to fine-tune plants’ health and susceptibility to disease, control the diseases in planta, and regulate plants’ response to other environmental stressors.


Unlocking New Ag Opportunities Through miPEPs

Micropep is revolutionizing the field through a computational platform that can recognize micropeptides responsible for specific plant and pest processes. Through ongoing work, we are identifying and vetting new micropeptides capable of regulating the production of proteins key to plant health and the ability to overcome disease. Product candidates in Micropep’s pipeline represent powerful new tools for the agricultural community that can be used alone or in combination with traditional pesticides and fertilizers.


Micropeptide-based products are groundbreaking because they offer two major advantages: they’re highly targeted and have a transient effect. Because micropeptides each have a highly specific function, they don’t have off-target effects on other organisms, including humans, alleviating concerns about their safety. They produce a transient change, unlike GMOs. Furthermore, because they are rapidly degraded in soil, they don’t persist or accumulate to negatively affect the environment or human health.


Securing Our Future

Because of these strengths, micropeptide-based products like Promisin offer farmers much-needed solutions to address food production challenges such as pest and disease resistance and climate change. With the ability to mitigate and prevent plant disease in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner using micropeptide-based products, farmers worldwide can bolster their ability to produce bountiful, healthy foods for years to come.