Partners Involved: Endophytes, Fungi, Crops, Scientists
Type of Partnership: Win-Win for Public and Planet
Partnership Models: Protector, Nourisher
Biotech can’t work fast enough to meet the pressures of 7 billion people and climate change. To meet food demands, we need to adapt quickly and can benefit from partnering with microbial communities for their rapid adaptation.
In 2002, University of Washington researcher Russell Rodriguez was studying a grass that grows in geothermal hot-springs and discovered a fungi—or an ‘endophyte’ to use technical language—without which, the grass would be unable to grow in such high temperatures. Rodriguez decided to explore whether this fungi could be used to produce a drought tolerant plant.
He isolated the fungal spores and sprayed them onto wheat seeds. The results were impressive; the wheat needed 50 percent less water, and could grow at much higher temperatures. Rodriguez applied a similar process with salt-tolerant dune-grass and cold-loving strawberries. When he sprayed those fungi on rice, the plants were able to withstand salt and cold, respectively, while simultaneously growing five times the size of normal and requiring half the amount of water. Rodriguez has since formed a non-profit to commercialize these developments.
Meanwhile, these results have led a number of researchers to conclude that endophytes have a significant advantage over genetically modified (GM) crops when it comes to fighting global hunger, due to their adaptability to climate change. Currently, drought-tolerant GM crops are single-purpose—they only tolerate drought. But given the unpredictability of the weather, if drought conditions suddenly change into a flood, GM crops would be unable to withstand the moisture—unlike the adaptable fungi-based crops.
SDGs Targeted: SDG2 on Zero Hunger, SDG 13 on Climate Action
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