The patent is for the use of a natural product called rhamnolipid to combat fungus-like organisms that cause some of the most economically damaging plant diseases in the world.
Compared with other fungicides, "rhamnolipid, because of its biological nature, has less toxicity and better biodegradability," said Raina M. Maier, a professor in UA's department of soil, water and environmental science who is one of the inventors.
Other inventors listed on the patent are Michael E. Stanghellini, UA professor emeritus of plant pathology and now a professor at the University of California at Riverside, retired UA senior research specialist Scott Lynn Rasmussen, former UA graduate student Do Hoon Kim and former UA postdoctoral researcher Yimin Zhang.
The organisms, known as zoosporic plant pathogens, cause diseases that include root rots of citrus and pepper, downy mildew of pumpkin, cucumber, grape and pepper, and the late blight of potato, the disease associated with the 19th century Irish potato famine. Zoosporic plant pathogens also cause the sudden oak death affecting oak trees in California and Europe.
In the spring of 2004, Jeneil obtained U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval to use a rhamnolipid product as a fungicide, said the company's president, N. R. Gandhi.
Any revenue that the University of Arizona receives from the patent license will fund future research and future patent expenses, said Mary Louise Trammell, senior licensing associate in UA's Office of Technology Transfer.
"It's all turned back into the R&D endeavor or the commercialization endeavor," she said. "We're trying to make products available for the public good."