Advances in Agricultural Biologicals
Posted 30th September 2016 by Jane Williams
The most exciting advances in agricultural biologicals research relate to the use of “systems biology” (or “omics”) approaches to discovery and development of new active ingredients for crop biostimulants. It is a new wave of very deep research that parallels natural products discovery programs for new drugs or lifestyle products that is happening in the Pharmaceutical industry.
Metagenomics techniques to find, isolate and culture novel species; genomic tools to find functional capabilities within those species; metabolomics and strain enhancement efforts to optimize the production on novel metabolites; transcriptomics and high-throughput phenotyping to demonstrate those functions in planta – all of these disciplines and others, fueled by unprecedented levels of institutional and venture capital coming into the space, will help to build a robust pipeline for novel technologies that can be applied exogenously to the plant to help optimize production of the acre. This will be a powerful complement to (but not an alternative for) the ongoing development of new seed traits and varieties through both genetic engineering and conventional breeding.
We will likely see a much clearer demarcation – nearly a bifurcation – of new product technologies: Some “top down” products that will be increasingly high quality / high performance from complex organic matter sources (plant extracts, seaweed extracts, other organics or mineral sources) and more laser-focused biostimulant materials from the systems biology approaches described above. Obviously, regulatory clarity and consistency and education / outreach to stakeholder communities will be an important part of liberating the technology and driving adoption for both streams of these development pipelines.
There are two other important points worth noting. As water and climate change issues take on an increasingly prominent role in political discourse, the ability of these new products and technologies to enhance nutrient use efficiency and the related benefits to reducing nitrogen and phosphorus runoff to watersheds and nitrous oxide emissions will be important in improving crop yields while simultaneously reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture, all of which will be important to consumers, growers, and government regulators.
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