“Why don’t you do something about those olive flies?” is what Mohammed Gnaim had to tell his son, Jallal, more than 10 years ago. Dr. Jallal Gnaim, a pharmaceutical chemist on his way to set up a start-up company that dealt with nano-encapsulation of cancer drugs, took time off from pharmaceutical chemistry to think how he could help protect his father’s crop of olives without insecticides, which his father also didn’t like. Olive flies, or Dacus Oleae , can easily destroy more than 30% of an olive crop by laying eggs in olives just before they ripen. This pest, which is a problem all over the Mediterranean, has developed a growing resistance to conventional insecticides, which are in any case a serious ecological problem.
Dr. Gnaim thought that the key to his father’s problem could be better use of sex pheromones that attract male olive flies. These had been proved to effective lures to capture male flies but their very volatile nature means that pheromone-based lures don’t last long, which meant much more work than Dr. Gnaim’s father was willing to invest. It was time for some real science. Dr. Gnaim’s ideas got him two research grants and he developed means in the TRDC labs to make the pheromones last the whole growing season by encapsulating them on a molecular level in a special kind of aluminosilicate. Once the formulation was developed field tests proved that it was immensely successful and protected olive from the olive fly without need of insecticides.
It soon became apparent that the problem Dr. Gnaim solved was far bigger that originally envisaged. The same problem that affected olives affected other crops, and the technology Dr. Gnaim had developed was suitable for the pheromones of most of the pests in the world. It was time for the next step and a new company, Agrorim was spin off from the TRDC winning backing from the Israeli Innovation Authority and private investors with a mission to develop technologies for delivery of active ingredients for agriculture to make farmer safer and greener both for consumers and farmers.