By Matt McIntosh for AgInnovation Ontario
Healthy growing conditions are critical to the success of any crop, and chemicals designed to help plants grow and resist disease are common, useful tools for farmers – whether growing conventional, organic, indoor, or outdoor crops.
Metagenom Bio Inc., however, is one company trying to help growers reduce their reliance on chemical controls.
With help from Bioenterprise, an organization that supports the development of agri-technology companies, through its Bioenterprise Seed Fund, Metagenom Bio Inc. uses improved microbe communities to both enhance plant growth and reduce the impact of disease.
“We’re what we like to call a ‘microbiome’ company,” says Patrick Ang, chief executive officer and the self-identified “business guy” for Metagenom Bio Inc.
“It’s genome sequencing. What we do is analyze the genetic sequence of microbial communities on farms, take samples, and use that information to help plants grow better and protect them from pathogens right from the start; It’s prevention instead of medication, ” he explains.
Microbe-based solutions mean farmers could spend less money and time on chemical inputs – like fungicides and other pesticides – but still have confidence that their crops will flourish.
Ang says there is already considerable work being done on microbe-based solutions for field crops, but less so for commercial greenhouses. Consequently, Metagenom Bio Inc. has focused primarily on the latter.
The hydroponic growing methods often used in commercial greenhouses are a good fit for the company’s work because of how controlled the environment and growing conditions are. Being able to accurately measure microbial communities makes developing precision solutions much more effective.
“Greenhouses are a very advanced way of growing food, but if a pathogen gets into that kind of closed environment it can devastate multiple generations of a crop,” says Trevor Charles, the company’s co-founder and resident “science guy.”
“There’s certainly a need for controls. The goal of our products is too inoculate plants in order to reduce the amount of chemical that might be needed to as low a level as possible,” he adds.
Because the products being developed under the Metagenom Bio label are different from others on the market, says Charles, providing outreach and expertise to growers – or working with them to implement an individualized growing strategy – is a critical part of their business.
Microbial communities are not just important to farming, so Metagenom Bio is also involved in the mining industry, specifically by helping mining companies monitor and clean up areas contaminated through Acid Rock Drainage – the outflow of acidic water from a mine.
Both Ang and Charles say Metagenom Bio Inc. is still in its “startup” business phase – the company launched in 2014 – but they are hoping to get products to the market very soon. They’re currently continuing to build their knowledge base through greenhouse trials across Ontario.