16 September 2014

Biodiversity or GMOs : how to increase plant resistance against drought?

It has been well known for a long time that the capacity of legumes to be symbiotic with Rhysobium bacteria gave them the ability to fix nitrogen found in the atmosphere and thus grow without being exclusively dependent on the nitrogen found in the soil, and produce crop residues that contributed to increase soil nitrogen. But it was not known yet that other symbiotic associations, facilitated by humans, could give other interesting and important aptitudes to plants.

This is exactly what researcher from Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies, based in Seattle Washington, in the US, found and started to market.

The story started during a lunch discussion between two researchers. The discussion was on the advantages that biodiversity could or could not give to plants to thrive better in an unfavourable environment. Two decades later, many years of research conducted in the most unfavourable ecosystems and after having created a startup (Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies), these researchers and their team will market this autumn seeds of maize, paddy, soya and wheat (and more are yet to come, such as vegetable seeds) treated so that these plant will lead a symbiotic life with a fungus found in Yellowstone National Park. The association with this fungus gives these plants the ability to grow in harsh drought and temperature conditions. Large scale tests have shown that ‘‘treated’’ plants had 85% more yield than non treated plants during the 2012 drought in the Midwest of the US.

It turns out that this association plant-fungus also gives plants the capacity to resist better against disease, which should help to reduce drastically (stop altogether?) chemical treatment of plants.

We can only be very pleased of this very promising breakthrough which, once more, demonstrates that it is potentially much more interesting to invest in research to improve rainfed agriculture, than spend billions in pharaonic irrigation projects which usually are not sustainable and only benefit to a minority of producers (and construction firms) [read more on this]. This also shows that there are ways to progress by using existing biodiversity and natural processes, without having to resort to genetic modification technologies and GMOs.

Let’s hope that Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies, which presents itself as a socially conscious company working towards a more sustainable agriculture, a competitor for GMO producers, will not use their advance to establish a monopoly that would have the capacity to extract massive profits from the agricultural world, as is being done by existing big seed companies [read more on this].

Let’s make sure that this new technology is accessible to the poorest producers!


To know more:

  1. -Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies website

  2. -I. Lapowsky, Fungus Could Be the Key to Avoiding a Global Food Crisis, Wired, 2014

  3. -M. Tennesen, More Food from Fungi? Crop-Enhancing Microbes Challenge Genetic Engineering, Scientific American 2010


Last update:    September 2014

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