March 21, 2016
Hardly a week goes by without us learning about new research on the positive benefits of bacteria. Most of it is thanks to the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) that was launched in 2008. Now, almost a decade later, researchers are delving into the microbiomes of thousands of other organisms.
One particular microbiome that’s getting attention right now is the plant microbiome. If you’ve read any of our previous blogs how probiotics have helped in the animal kingdom, you’ll understand the enormous influence that Indigo, a startup company in Cambridge, MA, may have on reshaping agriculture through the use of probiotics.
U.S. farmers are met with challenges every day, but particularly how to feed an expanding global population and how to meet the rising demand for food all while protecting our health and the environment. According to a recent article, Indigo says they have the answer in the form of a probiotic. Inspired by the Human Microbiome Project, the company has spent the last 2 years sequencing 40,000 plant microbes and figuring how to bring their research back to the farmers. Their concept is quite simple; they identify the beneficial microbes from inside each plant, and then coat them back onto seeds before planting them in the ground.
What sets Indigo apart from other companies who’ve focused on microbes living in the soil? A small handful of soil can contain a billion microbes and it would be difficult to tell which ones are interacting with the plant. Indigo says plants have already made their selection since they’ve already been growing in the soil.
In order to figure out which microbes are good for the plants, look inside of the plant. Makes perfect sense doesn’t it? Makes one wonder why it’s never been done before. And, because the plants coated in the microbes are more resilient, they’ll flourish with fewer chemicals. The microbes can also help the plants grow with less water, in much warmer climates and in saltier soil.
Indigo plans to sell their probiotic coating to those farmers who are already coating seeds with insecticides or fungicides, but over time, farmers should be able to reduce or even eliminate the other products. They plan to launch their first product this year to farmers growing the most predominate crops like soy, corn, wheat and cotton.
While it’s going to take time to rebuild a much healthier agriculture, Indigo wants us to realize that at some point in the future, we will have farming practices that nourish rather than decimate, and a healthy 10% increase in yields compared to agriculture’s current 1% annual productivity growth. Now, that’s food for thought.
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