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SEARCHING FOR SYMBIOSIS: Microbes abound that could boost crop performance. Small start-ups and major agricultural firms are looking high and low to find the best.
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The Plant Microbiome Just as humans have a microbiome inhabiting the gut and skin surface, plants have communities of symbiotic microbes living in their tissues, leaf surfaces, and root zone. Start-ups are creating designer groupings of beneficial microbes to increase water and nutrient stress tolerance and enhance plant health and growth rates. Firms: Symbiota, BioConsortia A Nitrogen Fix At least one beneficial microbe, Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus, can be incorporated into a plant’s tissues to boost its ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Firm: Azotic Technologies Bioactive Molecules Bioactive molecules—often enzymes—produced by microbes can help protect plants against weeds, fungal diseases, and pest insects. Firm: AgriMetis Trait Shifting Some symbiotic microbes shift the performance of a plant’s genetic traits by controlling gene expression. Firm: BioConsortia Giving Seeds A Head Start Most biological products can be applied via a seed coating. As the plant grows, it can incorporate the microbes into its tissues, surfaces, and root zone. Firms: Various Microbes From Soil Soil is a major source of microbes and bioactive substances that benefit plants. Firms use prospecting, gene sequencing, and high-throughput screening techniques to identify new microbial product targets. Firms: AgriMetis, BioConsortia, Taxon Biosciences Friends In Low Places Beneficial microbes living in the root zone can help plants ward off nematodes, fungal diseases, and weeds. Firm: Taxon Biosciences Plant DNA NH3 N2 Nematode Enzyme bacteria