The Van Trump Report

Fluorescing Soybean Maker “InnerPlant” Joins Forces with Deere and Syngenta to Fight Fungal Diseases

Just as catching a disease early in humans can greatly improve the odds of beating it, the same holds true for plants. For many crops, by the time signs of disease are visible it can be too late to prevent yield losses. A startup called “InnerPlant” has genetically engineered plants to emit a fluorescent glow when they are under attack from fungal diseases, alerting farmers to issues weeks before signs of stress would be visible to the human eye. Now, Deere & Co. and Syngenta are teaming up with InnerPlant to bring the technology to the field.

Studies show that farmers lose as much as -20% of yields or $800 billion worldwide every year due to pathogens. In a recent study of pathogens and pests with the biggest impact on major food crops, fungi made up the top six. And the problem is getting worse, according to experts who cite climate change and rising resistance to common fungicides. Scientists have warned that the spread and resilience of fungal pathogens put the world’s food supply at risk and could lead to a potential global health catastrophe.

InnerPlant creates crops that emit specific optical signals when they’re under stress from pathogen attacks. Plants fluoresce in different colors depending on the stressors. Those signals are visible from machines and satellites as much as two weeks before the stress is visible to the human eye at field level.

Through the new partnership, Deere’s “See & Spray” technology will be able to detect the fluorescent light and then the plants can be treated with a Syngenta fungicide designed for early applications. John Deere’s See & Spray technology allows treatments to be varied and applied only where needed to prevent fungal damage to the crop. As Dan Leibfried, John Deere’s Director of Corn & Soy Production Systems points out, “This is the first time we are designing plants, equipment, and inputs in an integrated and optimized solution as we work to make farmers more efficient and profitable.”

InnerPlant won USDA approval for its first commercial product, InnerSoy, in July, and this is the crop they will start with. However, they say the technology can be adapted to other crops. Field trials are expected to begin next year but there is no timeline yet on when the technology will be rolled out to farmers.  

Deere last year led a $16 million funding round into InnerPlant. The startup also just recently won $300,000 in funding from the United Soybean Board (USB) to develop, construct, and validate a first-of-its-kind satellite-mounted device to detect optical signals given off by InnerPlant’s engineered crops. The InnerPlant imaging device is scheduled to launch in Q1 of 2024 and its successful deployment will mark the first time in history that a signal from a human-engineered organism is detected from orbit. You can learn more about InnerPlant HERE. (Sources: Bloomberg, MorningAgClips, Interesting Engineering)

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