According to data from the World Bank in 2018, Agriculture accounts for 4% of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and, in some developing countries, represents more than 25% of GDP .
The agricultural sector in our country, Ecuador, represents 8% of GDP and 29,74% of total employment , plays a strategic role by producing 95% of the food goods consumed in the country and being an important source in generating foreign exchange by exporting products such as bananas, coffee, cocoa, among others.
Plant diseases, a serious problem
Plant diseases are one of the main hazards to agriculture. According to data from INEC 2018, pests and diseases represent 45.5% of total crop losses, this is where our project is born to prevent urgent diseases in our country, as an alternative to agrochemicals that can be harmful to human, environmental and animal health.
Ecuador is the main exporter of bananas in the world, with 22% of the international market. But this sector is being affected by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (Foc R4T), which causes a destructive disease of musaceae and is considered among the ten most important diseases in the history of agriculture, causing millionaire losses in banana plantations . In 2019, this pathogen was detected for the first time in plantations in Latin America, in the northeastern region of La Guajira (Colombia), while in April 2021 Peru confirmed the infestation in a plot in the district of Querecotillo, in Piura, both countries bordering Ecuador. So we have used the Foc R4T pathogen as a proof of concept.
Agrobactory 593 as a solution
After brainstorming about the project with which we would participate, we focused on thinking about a technology to prevent economic losses in the agricultural sector, so important in our country. Thus was born AgroBactory 593, a modular bacterial platform that produces low-cost biopesticides to fight plant diseases. By producing and delivering double-stranded RNA molecules as biopesticides, AgroBactory 593 uses RNAi technology to silence the expression of specific targets in the pathogen genome.
To demonstrate the efficacy of the platform, we developed a biopesticide against Foc R1 in vitro, with genes that can also be used against FOC RT4. Its modular design allows us to easily change the pathogens of interest, adjust the level of biopesticide and select the bacterial chassis. In this way, we can optimize and customize our biopesticide providing an affordable solution for farmers and their crops against pests.
The proposal is to evaluate in the future two ways of delivering the biopesticide. The first one is by means of native plant bacteria that release the dsRNA through an oscillatory lysis system, also controlling the bacterial population, and the second one by direct injection of the dsRNA into the trunk (Trunk injection).
Impact of the pandemic on our project
The pandemic was a major challenge for the team. Access to the labs was hampered by the situation in the country, so much so that we were never able to gain access to the University facilities. Despite this, we managed to work in the private laboratory of one of our principal investigators, where although we were not able to meet all the proposed objectives, part of them were executed. We had to face a shortage of reagents, supplies and equipment, which we were able to solve to a great extent.
Despite the fact that presence may seem fundamental for the approach to society in human practices, the pandemic strengthened the platforms used. The pandemic strengthened the platforms used for remote connection all over the world, so we were able to take advantage of it in meetings of human practices, scientific dissemination, debates, etc.
 Worldbank. Agriculture and Foody. 2021 [cited 10 October 2021]Available from: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/agriculture/overview#1
 Worldbank.Employment in agriculture (% of total employment) (modeled ILO estimate)-Ecuador. 2021 [cited 10 October 2021] Available from: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.AGR.EMPL.ZS?locations=EC
: INEC, ESPAC 2014 - 2018. Encuestas [cited 10 October 2021].Available https://www.ecuadorencifras.gob.ec/estadisticas-agropecuarias-2/
Vaca , E., Gaibor , N., & Kovács, K. Analysis of the chain of the banana industry of Ecuador and the European market. Applied Studies in Agribusiness and Commerce,vol. 14, p 2, 2020, doi: https://doi.org/10.19041/APSTRACT/2020/1-2/7
Cheng, Chunzhen et al.Identification of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense tropical race 4 (Foc TR4) responsive miRNAs in banana root. Scientific reports vol. 9,p.2-4,. 2019, doi:10.1038/s41598-019-50130-2
 Meenakshi Sushma. On slippery peel: Can India’s banana cultivation face Panama wilt. DownToEarth. 2020[cited 10 Octuber 2021]Available from: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/agriculture/on-slippery-peel-can-india-s-banana-cultivation-face-panama-wilt-73470
Banana export. Perú confirma infestación con hongo FOC R4T.2021 [cited 10 Octuber 2021]Available from: https://bananaexport.com/2021/04/12/peru-confirma-infestacion-con-hongo-foc-r4t/