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Press Releases :: 03/10/08

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Albany, New York -- 03/10/08

ALBANY, NY --- Marrone Organic Innovations, Inc. (MOI) of Davis, Calif. has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to commercialize technology invented and patented by a New York State Museum scientist that uses a natural bacterium to control invasive mussels that have fouled water supplies across the United States.

The NSF has awarded Marrone a two-year $500,000 Small Business Technology Transfer grant for the “Commercialization of an Innovative Green Technology for Controlling Zebra Mussels.” Last year, the State Museum selected MOI as a commercial partner for this microbial biopesticide technology that was invented and patented by Dr. Daniel Molloy, director of the Museum’s Field Research Laboratory in Cambridge, N.Y.  The award includes $275,000 to support the Museum’s research efforts in this industry-government partnership. Another subaward of $25,000 will go to another small business, Particle and Coating Technologies, Inc. of St. Louis, Mo. to assist in product formulation.

The fouling caused by zebra mussels and their close relatives, quagga mussels, represents billions of dollars in economic damage and has a major negative impact on freshwater ecosystems.  To find an environmentally safe control method, Molloy’s lab screened over 700 bacteria before identifying a strain of the common bacterium, Pseudomonas fluorescens, as being lethal to these mussels when ingested.

Museum scientists also discovered that dead cells of this strain were equally as lethal as live cells, providing clear evidence that the mussels died from a natural toxin in the cells, not from infection.  This is very significant because it means that future commercial formulations may contain dead cells, thus further reducing environmental concerns.  Testing at the lab also revealed the extraordinary selectivity of the bacteria in killing zebra and quagga mussels without killing other aquatic organisms, including fish and other species of freshwater clams and mussels.

Introduced from Europe in the 1980s, zebra and quagga mussels are tiny, fingernail-sized mussels that foul freshwater ecosystems and clog the intake pipes of industries that draw water from infested lakes and rivers.  Although populations have been widespread in the Great Lakes region and mid-west for almost two decades, these mussels were only found for the first time west of the Rockies in the last 18 months, specifically in regions of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and California. Power plants and other raw-water dependent facilities currently have no choice but to use non-selective, polluting chemicals to reduce these fouling mussels.  For open water (rivers, lakes, etc.), there is currently no cost-effective and environmentally safe solution and, therefore, these mussels continue to spread. When this NSF-funded, bacterial biopesticide is commercially available, it will represent a distinctly new approach to control these mussels in an environmentally responsible way.

The research at the Museum lab was made possible by about $3 million in grants from private, state, and federal agencies. Most recently, the Museum received a grant of $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, which recognized the devastation these mussels caused at electric power generation facilities and the lack of environmentally acceptable methods to control them (

“We are honored that NSF recognized the extensive, excellent work conducted by Molloy and his Museum research team, as well as MOI’s experience and capability to bring this exciting technology to market,” said Dr. Pam Marrone, MOI’s founder and CEO.

“Because of its extraordinary safety, this green technology represents a real alternative to the widespread use of chlorine and other polluting biocides for zebra and quagga mussel control” said Molloy. ”We are thus very pleased to be receiving this NSF funding to partner with MOI, a company whose staff have an unparalleled track record of success in commercializing microbial biopesticides.”

The Museum will use the NSF funding to further define environmental safety testing and will also work closely with MOI on other scientific aspects of product development.  Project activities will be carried out at the Cambridge lab by Molloy and his staff, which include chief scientist Denise Mayer and scientists Mike Gaylo and Paul Sawyko.  Since its establishment in 1973, the state lab has focused on investigating the biology, ecology, taxonomy, and biological control of aquatic invertebrate pests. Molloy discovered the control potential of the P fluorescens strain in 1995 and patented it in the U.S. in 2001.

MOI’s NSF award, combined with its own resources, will be used to develop commercial formulations, optimize the manufacturing process, identify mussel-killing natural compounds produced by the bacterium, conduct field trials, and complete all other tasks required to submit the product to the US Environmental Protection Agency for approval. MOI expects to have the biopesticide on the market by early 2010.

Through a combination of in-licensed technology and its own R&D, MOI discovers, develops and markets natural products for pest management that target markets needing effective and environmentally responsible solutions. MOI’s own R&D finds naturally occurring microorganisms from unique habitats and develops them into products for controlling insects, weeds, nematodes, and plant diseases.

           Founded in 1836, the New York State Museum in Albany is a cultural program of the New York State Education Department. It has the longest continuously operating state natural history research and

collection survey in the U.S. Further information can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the museum website at

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