On the Hunt: Studying Insect-Killing Worms in Space

ISS BLOG 360: December 10, 2019 By Anne Wainscott-Sargent

Experiments Hope to Bolster Nematodes’ Killer Instincts to Protect Crops

At a Glance

  • An ISS National Lab investigation from biotechnology startup Pheronym, in collaboration with the USDA, will examine how microgravity affects beneficial nematodes—tiny worms with bacteria in their gut that kill crop-harming insects.
  • A recent study found nematodes exposed to Pheronym’s patented pheromone extract were 28 percent to 78 percent more effective in controlling pecan weevils and black soldier flies than nonexposed nematodes.
  • Improving the pheromone’s efficacy could give growers a better tool to protect crops while reducing broad-spectrum chemical insecticide use.
  • In addition to benefitting crops on Earth, these environmentally safe worms could aid future crops grown in space.

Last week, a type of microscopic worm that kills crop-eating insects rocketed to the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory for an agricultural biocontrol experiment in space.  Keep Reading


A technical founder’s journey: an ag-biotech startup CEO with a vision

Being a scientist, I often have to convince people that I am the right CEO for Pheronym, an ag-biotech startup.

Frequently I hear, “You would make a great CSO.” I know I would be a great CSO, but I am the only one who can be Pheronym’s CEO.

Let’s start with “What does a startup CEO do?” Everyone knows that the CEO is the person in charge, but what does that mean for a small startup? Startup CEO’s can play very different roles depending on the type, stage, and founding team. For example, digital healthcare, digital agriculture, biotechnology, consumer-facing and B2B startups all have different needs. Furthermore, a startup is expected to create something visionary that will transform the industry or create some new and novel technology. So the startup needs a CEO with a vision.

It’s always been my belief I had the vision required. In 2005, when I accepted the position to identify the model nematode’s (Caenorhabditis elegans) sex pheromone, I knew how these discoveries could revolutionize agricultural pest control for nematodes. Keep reading

A founder’s journey; an ag-biotech startup COO

The hardest thing I have to do is to describe my role as Pheronym’s COO, which is crucial to our product development.

What does a startup COO do? If you search Google for a COO’s role and job description, it says the COO is the second in command and runs the operations. Even though this is a very clear role for big companies, it is not so clear in a startup. Keep reading

Based on the quality, the Medium curators selected this article to be recommended to readers interested in Work and Startups.

Pheronym Treated Nematodes Three Times More Effective in Attacking Agricultural Pests

Second Peer-Reviewed Study to Show Significant Efficacy in Company’s Patented Bio-remediation Technology

DAVIS, CA, UNITED STATES, Nov 12, 2019 — Pheronym, an ag-biotech pest control company, announced today the results of a second peer-reviewed study demonstrating the efficacy of their patented Nemastim™ pheromone extract for bio-remediation of agricultural pests.  In a joint study with the USDA and the University of Idaho, nematodes treated with pheromone extracts increased their effectiveness in invading host insects in soil by 300 percent.  Additionally, the nematodes improved their rate of attack within four hours of treatment.

The research, led by Dr. David Shapiro-Ilan with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service Southeastern Fruit and Tree Nut Research Laboratory, focused on the citrus root weevil, which attacks 270 different plant species including citrus, sugarcane, vegetables, potatoes, strawberries, woody field-grown ornamentals, sweet potatoes, papaya, guava, mahogany and containerized ornamentals.  Previous research from the USDA and the University of Idaho focused on the pecan weevil, showing improvements of up to 78 percent in the effectiveness of nematodes attacking their prey. The nematodes treated with pheromone extracts were found to disperse more than non-treated nematodes. In this current study, the investigators discovered that the same pheromones that increased beneficial nematode dispersal also increased infection (invasion into the host insect pest). Keep Reading

Look for the article in the Journal of Nematology, coming soon!

It is featured at KLKN ABC Lincoln, Dominican Republic Post, South America Business News. 


Two University of Florida graduates’ journeys merge in San Francisco to launch agricultural breakthrough

How a marketing advisor helped transform our company!

“I became a scientist and researcher because it was my passion — why would I ever need marketing?”

I would soon realize that the best ideas don’t always win, but the best marketing does. The realization hit me hard when attending a marketing panel shortly after I started the IndieBio accelerator in San Francisco. Before 2017, my technology development training at the University of Florida (UF) prepared me to use the scientific tools to develop a technology from the laboratory to the field. However, business development, commercialization, and marketing were totally new and scary territory for me. So, I decided to deal with the new business territory, one piece at a time, starting with marketing.

Mr. Karl C. Schiller, Dr. Fatma Kaplan, Mr. Neil Cohen

That’s when I met Neil Cohen, the moderator of the aforementioned panel. As I listened and tried to learn, I realized I had no idea how to use the marketing tools espoused by the panel to turn Pheronym, Inc. into a viable business. Luckily, Neil had free office hours which I immediately signed up for it at IndieBio. He gave us specific advice on how to use effectively social media to our advantage. We also learned that Neil was a fellow Gator, and graduate of our Journalism school in PR. Wow! Keep reading

Nematodes in Space at the Future of Agriculture Podcast

We thank Tim Hammerich for preparing this amazing podcast for AstroNematode project.

Interview with Dr. Fatma Kaplan and Cameron Schiller, founders of Pheronym, which is an agricultural biotech company that provides safe, non-toxic, and innovative solutions to solve numerous agricultural problems. They also recently received funding for the development of space nematodes under the project AstroNematode. AstroNematode is interstellar agriculture for Earth and a small step for a nematode but a giant step for agriculture in space. The first agriculture biocontrol experiment will launch on December 4, 2019, and provide data to pave the way for sustainable agriculture on and outside of Earth.

  • How the project got started and where they found funding.

  • The best qualities of the project and what it can provide data scientists.

  • Their contingencies when the project doesn’t work as planned.

  • The kind of animals NASA plans to take to Mars.

  • Why they think nematodes can survive and reproduce in space.

  • The upcoming launch and how the nematodes will be packaged.

  • Making sure the experiments are running smoothly while they remain on Earth.

  • How they manage to run a startup and the nematode project at the same time.

Listen to podcast

Pheronym is presenting at the Florida Aerospace Capital Forum


Pheronym is honored to be among the 16 companies selected to present at the Florida Aerospace Capital Forum on November 6, 2019, in Lake Nona, Orlando.

To support long term space exploration, we need to develop agricultural technologies. Pheronym is doing just that and the only Food and Agribusiness company and also among the 4 companies selected from outside Florida to present at the Florida Aerospace Forum.

Karl Cameron Schiller, co-founder of Pheronym, will present our technology using nematode pheromones to control agricultural pests for sustainable eco-friendly solutions in Lake Nona. For space explorations,  non-toxic pest control solutions become even more important due to limited air in space.  Pheronym is sending good nematodes, microscopic roundworms, to International Space Station on December 4, on SpaceX CRS19. This is also the first agriculture biocontrol experiment in Space. To learn more about Pheronym’s mission on Earth and beyond, stop by and talk to him.





A Founder’s Journey: Financial and Legal Milestones

Dr. Fatma Kaplan is honored to be invited to AgStart’s Founder Education workshops.  Dr. Fatma Kaplan, CEO of Pheronym, will describe her company’s journey through a series of legal and financial milestones as her company has progressed, including corporate organization and re-organization, intellectual property filings, working with an accelerator, two different financing transactions, and a host of partnering agreements with government, corporate and other players for services, testing, and collaboration while protecting her company’s interests.

Entrepreneurs anticipating similar milestones in their future come and talk to us at Greenberg Traurig, LLP (1201 K Street, 12th Floor Conference Center, Sacramento, CA 95814) on Wednesday, November 13, 2019, at 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM PST.