Today our ability to continuously push these systems to produce more crops year after year has largely stagnated, and is not keeping pace with rising demand. Clearly, new innovations are needed to change the way we grow food and make it more sustainable.
In recent years, genomic technology has rapidly advanced our understanding of the microbes that live on virtually every surface on Earth, including our own bodies. Just as our new understanding of the human microbiome is revolutionizing medicine and spawning a new probiotic industry, agriculture may be poised for a similar revolution.
In nature, plants coevolve with microbes that live in their rooting zones, on their leaves, and even inside their cells. Plants provide microbes with food in the form of carbon, and microbes make nutrients available to the plants and help prevent disease. But as we started adding more and more chemicals to our fields and tilling soils, we broke the close connection between plants and microbes by killing many of these beneficial organisms.
Matthew Wallenstein, associate professor and director of the Innovation Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Colorado State University was inspired by doctors’ surprising success in using human fecal transplants to cure a chronic and often deadly bacterial infection called Clostridium difficile. By simply transplanting the fecal microbiome from a healthy person, the disease was cured. Permanently!
Along with his close collaborator at Colorado State University, Dr. Colin Bell, he set out to develop a microbial technology to increase the availability of phosphorus, a critical nutrient that plants need to grow. Farmers provide phosphorus to plants by applying fertilizer – but when it is added to soils this way, up to 70 percent of it becomes bound up with soil particles and plants can’t access it.
Microbes can unlock phosphorus and other micronutrients so that plants can use them. They developed a combination of four bacteria that are exceptionally good at making phosphorus available to plants, leading to bigger, healthier plants. They do this by releasing specialized molecules that break the bonds between phosphorus and soil particles. To get this technology into the hands of farmers who can use it, we launched a startup company called Growcentia and started selling our first product, which is called Mammoth P.
Growcentia focuses on soil microbes that increase nutrient efficiency and uptake, but microbes can also enhance agriculture in many other ways. Some companies are focused on commercializing microbes that have been shown to suppress plant responses to drought, which ironically tricks them into continuing to grow through dry conditions. Other companies are developing microbial products that protect plants from disease and pests. Microbes can even influence the timing of flowering. The possibilities are endless.
You can read more from the original article here.