Editor's Note: As part of 25 of the BIOten Celebrating the first anniversary We will highlight the innovations of biotechnology that have made a great impact over the last 25 years. This "innovation chain" will be published in 25ten Every month throughout 2018. In the ninth installment, we highlight biotechnology in food and agriculture.
Therefore, you want to grow vegetables. Suppose you are looking for growing jalapeño pepper. Go to your local nursery, buy a young pepper plant, take it home and plant it in the ground or in a pot. Then, you can heat them up, put them in the sun and nature is largely taking care of the rest.
While patiently waiting and rethinking the rich peppers' harvest recipes, billions of microbes under the soil help to supply your plant with the nutrients it needs to grow. In one tablespoon of soil, there are billions of microbes – small organisms such as bacteria and fungi – that exist naturally. What if there is a way to promote microbes and improve plants for both humans and the environment?
This is where the "ag microbes" come in.
Through innovation in biotechnology, products have been created that can be directly applied to seeds to enhance natural microbes, improving the results for both nutrition and the environment.
Thanks to the new understanding of genetic sequencing, researchers can identify microbes with special traits, allowing farmers to control microbes entering the soil.
Many of the qualities being explored benefit more than just the plant. Some microbes have the ability to suppress plant negative reactions to dehydration, and are mainly deceived to continue growth in dry conditions. In an increasingly warmer world, water talks are an increasing priority, and microbes like these will allow farmers to use less water, which benefits the environment.
Recognizing the potential and beneficial effects of microbes, biotechnology companies are now investing in the research and development of this innovative technology. For example, Pivot BIO in California develops agar microbes to help reduce nitrogen flow that can contaminate lakes, rivers and oceans. Plants need nitrogen to grow and thrive, but nitrogen from fertilizer can flow into waterways, leading to "dead areas" – large areas of water that do not have enough oxygen to support marine life.
The plant microbes allow the absorption of more nitrogen from the atmosphere. This allows farmers to apply fewer nitrogen-containing fertilizers and enhance the plant's natural ability to convert nitrogen from the air to meet the daily needs of nitrogen for crops.
In addition, Monsanto (now part of Bayer Crop Science) and Novozymes have formed an alliance to develop microbial solutions to transform agriculture. The alliance develops two microbial products: the vaccine, which helps nutrient-absorbing plants such as nitrogen, and biological control, which help protect plants against pests and diseases. The latter will allow the plant to fight pests and diseases on its own, reducing the need for pesticides, and again, reducing environmental impact.
Small businesses like Ginkgo Bioworks are also looking to microbial science to help promote agriculture. The company uses biotechnology to engineer microbes to reduce the flow of water from fertilizer to the environment. In this regard, Gingko Bioworks formed a joint venture with Bayer to associate the company's experience with manufacturing capabilities at Ginkgo Bioworks. In addition to the production of anti-nitrogen microbes, the alliance is looking to tackle soybean rust and citrus – a topic we have covered here.
While much of the conversation focused on plant genetic engineering to solve food and agricultural challenges such as greening citrus, the antimicrobial microbes carry huge promises as another solution.
By improving the microbes already found under the soil, farmers can fundamentally improve nature for greater benefits – benefits beyond plant health, which also helps to reduce environmental impact.
So the next time you choose Pepper, remember that most of the work came from billions of microbes living under the soil. Biotechnology allows us to harness the power of microbes to work more for plants, humans and land than ever before.