Coping with the COVID-19 Disaster

The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike any disaster we have seen in our lives. Our first coping strategy was to understand the disaster as much as we can. The consequences of COVID-19 multiply the disaster’s effects. Unfortunately, our governments were not prepared for this pandemic. Our hospitals do not have enough beds or equipment to take care of the sick. We do not know when we get sick whether we will be taken care of or triaged to die alone or with family. We are very thankful for all the healthcare professionals who are working tirelessly to find a cure, develop diagnostic tests, create a vaccine, take care of the sick, and provide us with guidance on how to protect ourselves and others (CDC).

Due to COVID-19, all of the institutions that we rely on to function in our daily lives are gone overnight. For example, schools closed unexpectedly and everyone was told to work from home. We are all expected to have rooms ready for distance learning for our kids and home offices so we could work from home. Nevermind that in dual profession families, our partners are also expected to work at the same time from home. What about the daycare closures? Families with young children are miraculously expected to work from home while taking care of the kids at the same time. Closures of many businesses like restaurants and bakeries, bars, and the hospitality industry have left people without jobs and without health insurance at a time when health insurance is a necessity. Even simple things like buying toilet paper, paper towels, baking soda or flour at the grocery store became a major issue due to shortages. These are all that we count on and take for granted, and now they are gone.

Tomatoes in a field waiting.

Are these really important? Yes. Those things that make us productive so we can take care of responsibilities such as pay our rent, bills, or care for ourselves and our families. Even when we are told to self-quarantine at home, our responsibilities have not gone away. Because we are still expected to work and be as productive as before the pandemic. Plenty of people are sharing pictures of their Zoom meetings, going about business as usual and pretending that self-quarantine has not slowed them down. It is time to realize that the COVID-19 disaster disrupted our lives, our governments, and the entire world. We are not alone. This change is very different from everything we have experienced or could imagine. That is stressful by itself.

You may be wondering “What does this have to do with Pheronym’s work?” It has everything to do with developing a coping strategy to function. The disruption to our daily lives directly affects our founders’ and employees’ effectiveness. It creates additional stress that was not there before. This is not ordinary stress. It is a global crisis that is felt by everyone worldwide. Our first focus is how can we reduce the stress to a manageable level because the stress is not going to go away anytime soon. Every day there is more grim news; a rising death toll globally, more new cases every day, and we know it is just going to get worse. We are working very hard to keep the morale up by being supportive and positive and sharing whatever good news we have. There is still hope. Keep reading

Pheronym’s initial COVID-19 disaster response

Nothing could have prepared us for this

Being a preseed/seed biotech startup in Agriculture is a challenge all by itself. The COVID-19 pandemic makes it even harder. Four weeks ago we were informed that the COVID-19 pandemic had arrived in the US and we needed to self-quarantine and start social distancing. This was an incomparable challenge to our resilience.

Pheronym’s founders (Dr. Fatma Kaplan and Mr. Karl Schiller) lived many years in Florida and were accustomed to dealing with natural disasters (hurricanes). We learned to continue to work without any disruption, take care of ourselves and families. The State of Florida had disaster plans and shelters already in place. We knew when the hurricanes were coming, what degree of damage to expect, how long we would stay at home (distance work), and whether we needed to go to a shelter/stop the work temporarily. All of this information helped us to plan and how to utilize our time efficiently during the many potential disruptions. If we needed to stop work for a period of time, we knew what to do.

I (Fatma) worked for the USDA-ARS. Many of my colleagues went through government shutdowns/furloughs where they were not allowed to work. During my time at the USDA, the government almost shutdown, so everyone got training for how to run a biotechnology research program during a government shutdown, where we would not be allowed to go to work and conduct experiments. I never thought this training would be useful, but here we are.

The first confirmed incidence of community spread COVID-19 in the US occurred in Solano County, California, not far from Davis where Pheronym operates R&D. I set up a temporary shutdown of laboratory work while maintaining the essential culture that would be ready to go when things come back to normal. My co-founder and I knew how to deal with unavoidable work disruptions, so we went about our usual disaster preparations. All disasters are bad, but nothing is like COVID-19.

I don’t think anyone was prepared for the kind of disruption caused by the COVID-19 disaster. The disruption was not just to Pheronym or businesses in our state, it was in all 50 states altogether. It was disrupting the entire world. It was like an alien invasion of our planet, disrupting our lives globally.

COVID-19 is worse than the deadliest hurricane in the US, Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, this time we are not trying to clean up some fallen trees or fix property damage caused by the winds and rain. This time we are worrying that our friends, family, and colleagues are getting sick and dying. Our hospitals do not have enough beds or equipment to take care of the sick.

In addition, all of the institutions that we rely on to function in our daily life are gone overnight. For example, the schools are closed, daycares are closed, eating out is no longer a possibility, getting together more than a group of two is not OK. We can’t find a simple toilet paper or flour at the grocery stores.

These are all things we have taken for granted, and they are gone. It is like living in a science fiction story where our planet is invaded and we lost everything except for our virtual world. We now realize that the virtual world is not enough. Now we have to figure out how to survive and thrive when everything is taken from us. We, humans, are very resilient, I believe we can do it together.

From Chill to Kill – Pheronym treated Nematodes Aggressively Disperse in Lower Temperatures

Third Peer-Reviewed Study Shows Company’s Patented Bio-remediation Technology Works in Cooler Weather, Expanding the Range for Deploying Nematode-based biological control

DAVIS, CA, UNITED STATES, March 31, 2020 — Pheronym, an ag-biotech pest control company, announced today the results of their third peer-reviewed study demonstrating the efficacy of their patented Nematism ™ pheromone extract for bio-remediation of agricultural pests.   In a study to be published in Scientific Reports by Springer Nature, Dr. David Shapiro-Ilan with the USDA-ARS, Dr. Ed Lewis, with the University of Idaho, and Dr. Fatma Kaplan, with Pheronym reported that nematodes treated with Pheronym’s pheromones still aggressively dispersed in temperatures as low as 15 degrees Celsius, which was superior to untreated nematodes. Most entomopathogenic (insect-killing) nematode species require 20 degrees or above for optimum activity.

The research, led by Dr. Kaplan with Pheronym, Inc., studied pheromones’ role in the stimulation of dispersal at temperatures from 15 to 30 degrees Celsius and how this is affected by nematodes’ foraging strategy.

“Nematodes typically reduce their dispersal or remain motionless in cooler temperatures.  Expanding the temperature range downward for deploying beneficial nematodes means farmers can enhance the use of environmentally-friendly pest management solutions and thereby reduce harmful chemical inputs,” said Dr. Fatma Kaplan, CEO of Pheronym.  “In essence, Pheronym’s Nemastim takes the Nematodes from chill, to kill.”

“Expanding the temperature range for deployment of beneficial nematodes is a huge win for sustainable agriculture,” said Dr. David Shapiro, USDA-ARS.   “It’s just one more reason for more aggressive commercial deployment of effective solutions like nematode pheromones.”

The new study can be found here

Pheronnym’s previous two peer-reviewed studies on efficacy and infectivity can be found here, Pheromone extracts act as boosters for entomopathogenic nematodes efficacy  and here, Conspecific pheromone extracts enhance entomopathogenic infectivity .


Examining the Socioeconomic Benefits of the International Space Station at SETI Institute

Secure World Foundation, SETI Institute and the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory are co-hosting a two-event series on the socioeconomic benefits of conducting research and development onboard the ISS. The series will highlight important work being done on the ISS that benefits global efforts such as the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. This first event will take place in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a second event to be hosted in Washington, D.C.

Image result for iss

Dr. Kaplan at Pheronym is honored to be invited to talk about how utilizing the ISS has been instrumental to Pheronym’s mission in contributing towards agriculture on earth and feeding the world.

Come and talk to us on Wed, January 29, 2020, at 1:00 PM – 3:30 PM PST, at SETI institute.

Address: 189 North Bernardo Avenue, #suite 200, Mountain View, CA 94043

How did the AstroNematode do in space?

AstroNematode returned to earth on Tuesday, Jan 7, 2020.

We received AstroNematode on Friday morning Jan 11, 2020.

Next……….. Stay tuned for a big surprise!

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 12 December 2019 – Preparing for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test of the CST-100 Starliner

Status Report – Source: SpaceRefPosted December 13, 2019 5:26 PM

On-Orbit Status Report

NanoRacks Module-85: The crew transferred the Module-85 tubes (3) and inserted them into cold stowage. Microgravity Effect on Entomopathogenic Nematodes’ Ability to Find and Kill Insects (Module-85 Pheronym) tests the effects of microgravity on the movement and infection behavior of beneficial nematodes, which are used to control agricultural insect pests. The research looks at whether these nematodes can navigate through soil, infect insects and reproduce in space. It also looks at whether their symbiotic bacteria function normally in microgravity and has any effects on insect host physiology.

For more information about the experiment, visit the AstroNematode website.

To join the mission for biocontrol in Space and on Earth, contact or support the project visit the AstroNematode shop.