Helping plants help themselves

U of S research finds natural ways to improve crop yield.

University of Saskatchewan microbiologists Vladimir Vujanovic and Jim Germida have discovered that a group of microbes can provide a natural way to substantially improve seed germination and yield, and confer drought- and heat-stress resistance to wheat, barley, canola and pulse crops.
 
These U of S-developed and owned microbial endophytes — organisms that live in plant tissues and work symbiotically with the plant — have been commercialized by Boston-based Indigo Agriculture, with a potentially huge economic impact on the farming industry.
 
“Unlike crop breeding programs that concentrate on particular genes to improve the plant, endophytes are able to work with all plant-associated microbes and with the plant’s whole genome to improve crop traits,” said Vujanovic.
 
The potential impact on the agriculture industry may be in the billions of dollars.
 
The technology, which passed regulatory approval by United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in early 2017, reduces yield losses under drought conditions and increases yields under normal conditions.
 
The technology was licensed to Indigo in 2013, and can now be sold to millions of farmers in the U.S. It’s scheduled for registration in many more countries in coming years.
 
In the past three years, Indigo Agriculture and the U of S, through Innovation Enterprise, have built an extensive collaborative research program around this technology and secured almost  $3 million in research grants and more than $20 million from industry.
 
Indigo Agriculture has grown from a two-person workshop to a company with more than 100 employees.

Sarath Peiris is assistant director, Research Profile and Impact.
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