Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Unlocking the Future of Sustainable Crop Protection with Bayer’s CropKey


Farmers globally face the daunting task of safeguarding their crops from harmful insects, diseases, and weeds until harvest. This task is becoming increasingly difficult. The limited crop protection solutions available are losing their effectiveness as pests develop resistance. Climate change is impacting farmers’ ability to produce enough to maintain their businesses and provide affordable food. Additionally, consumer expectations about the food we consume and the health of our planet are shaping agricultural policy and practices.
This isn’t merely a complex set of challenges confronting farmers; it’s a growing threat to humanity considering that crop protection secures food equivalent to feeding over 2 billion people. Consequently, there’s an immediate need for new, effective, safe, and sustainable crop protection tools.
Bayer, with its industry-leading innovation platform, has successfully launched 15 new active ingredients in the past 15 years. However, we recognize that innovation in crop protection must undergo a fundamental transformation for farmers to continue responding quickly and safely to threats to their crops in the long run.
Target Based Discovery – Searching for the unique lock
Crop Protection operates similarly to many medicines used to cure diseases - it works by identifying and inhibiting a specific protein in the target organism. By inhibiting this single protein, the pest can be controlled. This protein can be considered as a lock, and to protect all surrounding biodiversity, our scientists must ensure that no other organism contains this exact lock.
With more scientific knowledge than ever about the composition of living organisms and their intricate biological processes in any given environment, we can use AI and machine learning – a subset of AI that uses algorithms to identify patterns in data – to recognize the complex interdependencies between an unlimited number of organisms theoretically. This allows us to single out unique proteins or “locks” much faster and with greater precision than ever before.
Profile Driven Discovery - Creating the perfect key
Previously, molecules or “keys” from our leading 2.6 million compound library were physically screened and chosen based on their potential effectiveness as crop protection solutions. They were then tested to ensure their safety and sustainability profiles.
Today, our scientists can design entirely new and precise “keys” using virtual screening, which exponentially increases the number of molecules analyzed. Computational predictive modeling and miniaturized testing - early in-vitro testing on individual cells – confirm that a molecule or “key” will not bind or “fit” to other proteins or “locks” in non-target organisms. Using these same predictive tools, scientists can also ensure other sustainability factors, such as the degradability of the molecule in the soil, exceeding current standards and minimizing all environmental impact.
These data-driven technologies quickly narrow down promising molecules and eliminate those that do not meet pre-defined safety and sustainability standards far more accurately than previously imaginable. When the perfectly designed key fits the unique lock, our scientists have discovered a new mode of action.
Not only does this new paradigm in screening and modeling accelerate the discovery of new, effective, safe, and sustainable modes of action, but it also opens up entirely new horizons of possibility. In the past, it was laborious to curate, purchase, and test thousands of molecules. Today, being able to analyze billions of molecules in a virtual environment using AI allows us to explore new and much larger chemical spaces than ever before.
Producing the Key – Digital Chemistry & AI-driven synthesis
The process doesn’t stop there; computational tools are then used to optimize the design of molecules and find synthesis routes, with AI proposing the best way to create the molecule or – to continue with the analogy – to produce the physical key most effectively. This “best way” includes factors such as the environmental footprint or cost of synthesis.
CropKey: Unlocking powerful new possibilities for agriculture
CropKey is Bayer’s bold demonstration of how we will unlock the future of sustainable protection. However, it is more than just an approach to innovation – it is producing tangible results that are expanding our pipeline of solutions.
We now have over 30 potential new molecular targets under investigation in discovery and have validated over 10 targets as new modes of action in early research, all arising from this breakthrough innovation approach. We have also announced two entirely new modes of action designed using the CropKey approach that are being brought from conception to reality in record time; a unique broad-spectrum fungicide for use in fruit and vegetables and a new herbicide molecule for broadacre post-emergent weed control are expected to reach the market in the next decade.
CropKey designed solutions hold enormous potential, but they become even more powerful when combined with a diverse set of tools. Developed to be used together with Bayer’s advanced seed and trait technologies and biological products as part of integrated pest management strategies and applied according to data-driven field insights and with precision technologies, they will meet each farmer’s specific needs and circumstances.
Crop protection is also a key component of agricultural systems based on regenerative agricultural practices such as using no- or reduced-till or cover crops to maximize carbon sequestration from the atmosphere, increasing the soil’s natural ability to store carbon, nutrients, and water for improved crop performance.
This systems and tailored solutions approach can increase farmer productivity while further minimizing agriculture’s environmental impact using CropKey designed solutions that act and are applied in a highly targeted and precise manner.