- Beneficial microbes—referred to as endophytes—are sourced in nature and can be re-introduced into the plant through seed coating to improve plant health in agriculture
- Researchers at Indigo and the Austrian Institute of Technology demonstrated that a novel spray technique on flowers enables the transfer of beneficial microbes into its seeds
- The plants grown from the seeds produced by the treated flowers demonstrated improved growth and increased yield
Charlestown, MA, February 28, 2017 - Indigo, a company dedicated to harnessing nature to help growers sustainably feed the planet, announced today the publication of research to improve the microbiome of crop plants. Plants depend upon a complex environment that contains beneficial bacteria and fungi for healthy growth and development. Some microbes that live within the plant itself are known as ‘endophytes’ and are fundamental to the health of plants. Until now, data have shown that these beneficial microbes can be incorporated into plants via association with the soil, or by coating endophytes directly onto seeds.
In research recently published in Frontiers in Microbiology, scientists at Indigo and the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) demonstrated that endophytes can be delivered into developing seeds by spraying beneficial microbes on the flower of the parental plant. Data from a field trial showed that up to 92 percent of wheat seeds contained the microbe that was sprayed onto the flower.
By testing different types of plants, including corn, soybeans, wheat, and pepper, researchers also showed that these microbes confer important benefits to plants grown from those seeds. Wheat plants containing the new bacterial endophytes had a five day earlier “spike” (grain bearing part of the plant) emergence and a significantly greater number of grain ears per square meter as compared to control plants.
One important finding of this research was that the endophyte strain introduced to the seed during flowering was not recovered from progeny seeds produced from the initial seeds. The effect of the microbe was transient. In other words, the plant genetics were not modified by the microbe and the microbes were not transferred to the next generation of seed.
“There is an urgent need for agricultural innovations that can help boost crop yields while protecting the environment. The microbiome inside of plants offers a potentially revolutionary new way to do this and to naturally improve agriculture around the world,” says Dr. Geoffrey von Maltzahn, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Indigo and Partner at Flagship Pioneering. “Our partnership with AIT leaders has been key in progressing this research, and aligns with Indigo’s approach of collaborating with pioneering scientists and institutions to accelerate progress.”
About the plant microbiome
The scientific community has long known that the human body is home to a multitude of microorganisms. However, only recently have researchers begun to understand the full array of benefits these microbes confer to their human hosts. Throughout history, bacteria and fungi have evolved in sync with people, enhancing human health and averting disease in a relationship that worked to mutual advantage. An increasing body of evidence shows how this relationship impacts human health from birth, with the microbiome of infants playing a critical role in promoting growth and protecting from disease.
Indigo began with the hypothesis that the health of agricultural crops also deeply depends on the health of their microbiomes. Like humans, plants have intimate relationships with microbes that have developed over the course of millions of years to help them mitigate abiotic and biotic stresses. Indigo has discovered that these communities can be disrupted by modern agricultural practices—insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides, designed to safeguard crops, can have the opposite effect on their microbiomes. Identifying and restoring beneficial microorganisms to modern agricultural crops lies at the core of Indigo’s mission.
Download a copy of the Frontiers in Microbiology article.
Indigo is a company dedicated to harnessing nature to help farmers sustainably feed the planet. The company utilizes beneficial microbes residing within plant tissues to optimize crop health and improve productivity. Indigo is partnering with twelve research institutions and has tested beneficial microbes on more than ten different crops across three continents in six growing seasons, with trials consistently showing significant yield increases under target stress conditions. The company intends to consider a wide range of stresses, including environmental and biotic stresses. The company’s first two commercial products are Indigo™ Cotton and Indigo™ Wheat, both of which improve water use efficiency. Indigo is planning to launch products derived from the plant microbiome in several other crops in 2017. To date, Indigo has closed $156 million in funding. The company is headquartered in Boston (MA) with commercial and customer service based in Memphis (TN). Indigo was founded by VentureLabs, the innovation foundry of Flagship Pioneering, a firm that conceives, creates, resources and develops first-in-category life sciences companies. www.indigoag.com.
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