President and CEO, NewLeaf Symbiotics
As our population grows, science looks to nature’s tiniest organisms to safeguard the food’s future.
The world’s population is growing — there are nearly 8 billion people alive today, and by 2050 that number might be 10 billion. Feeding that many people is already a challenge due to insects and diseases that attack crops, but the chemicals that fight these problems lose their efficacy as nature adapts.
“Nobody really believes the future of agriculture is going to be more chemicals,” says Thomas Laurita, president and CEO of NewLeaf Symbiotics, a bioagricultural company based in St. Louis. “The question is, what’s the alternative?”
One potential solution lies in tiny microbes that live symbiotically with all plant life, Pink Pigmented Facultative Methylotrophs, commonly called M-trophs.
“M-trophs are a unique type of microbe that has co-evolved with plants and lives on and in all plants,” explains Laurita. “We know more than anybody in the world about this kind of microbe.”
NewLeaf has used advanced genome sequencing tools to identify M-trophs that are beneficial — strengthening roots, for example, or acting as “biostimulants” that increase crop yields. These M-trophs can be isolated and introduced to other crops, bringing those benefits with them. The end result is healthier plants that produce more food.
A secure future
That’s just phase one of NewLeaf’s plans. They’re actively working on M-trophs that will make crops more insect- and disease-resistant — a solution both cheaper and more permanent than pesticides and other chemicals — and eventually intend to develop all-new M-trophs for even greater benefits.
In a world that’s both hungrier and more conscious of where its food comes from, this science is crucial. “We believe the future of food is more earth-friendly technologies,” Laurita says with a hint of pride. “We’re understanding what nature has already done to thrive without chemicals.”
Jeff Somers, [email protected]