Harvesting Innovation

Researcher with wheat

Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan have partnered with Indigo Agriculture Inc. to use genomic science in the international effort to produce crops that will thrive in 21st-century conditions to meet the world’s growing nutritional and industrial demands.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that world food production will have to increase by 70 per cent before 2050 to feed a growing global population. That goal is complicated by the need for crops to adapt to the extreme conditions of climate change and by the increasing loss of freshwater sources.

Achieving global food security despite these conditions is considered such a compelling challenge that it is the second of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, after the eradication of poverty. Scientists have risen to that challenge by deploying the research tools unleashed by genomics. This effort is comparable to the Green Revolution of the 1960s that used advances in agronomy to drastically increase crop yields in India and other developing countries.

“This highly successful partnership represented a successful public–private collaboration on finding solutions impacting time-to-market of innovative agricultural products. We are hopeful that this relationship has opened doors for additional opportunities for similar partnerships that bring value to the growers and the environment.”

– Ray Riley, senior vice-president, product development, Indigo Agriculture 

In describing the need for a second Green Revolution, philanthropist Bill Gates said, “The charge is clear—we have to develop crops that can grow in a drought; that can survive in a flood; that can resist pests and disease…we need higher yields on the same land in harsher weather.”

The Genome Canada-funded Augmenting the Plant Microbiome to Improve Crop Yield and Stress Resilience project builds on a breakthrough in genomic crop science by University of Saskatchewan microbiologists Vladimir Vujanovic and Jim Germida. Drs. Vujanovic and Germida discovered a group of symbiotic microbes in plant tissues that may enable substantially improved seed germination, yield, and drought- and heat-stress resilience in more than 20 varieties of wheat, barley, pulses and canola. These crops account for more than $15 billion in annual production in Canada alone.

Indigo’s translation and commercialization of this research will help farmers by expediting the development of crops that are healthier and produce higher yields. Already, the University of Saskatchewan partnership with Indigo has produced a potential microbial treatment for major crops that is being evaluated as a candidate for commercial launch.

“The synergy created by the partnership has impacted Indigo’s innovation platform and helped the company to further optimize the potential of the microbial treatments,” said Ray Riley, senior vice-president, product development at Indigo. “In the course of the partnership, Indigo (formerly known as Symbiota) has more than doubled its employee count and launched its first products.”

The Augmenting the Plant Microbiome to Improve Crop Yield and Stress Resilience project aims to dramatically improve yield and stress resistance in food crops. This $24.4-million project, a collaboration with Genome Prairie and others, received $16 million through the Genomic Applications Partnership Program.

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