The Public Ledger, August 2015

Agbiotech company makes strides with crop field trials

Over the past eighteen months, BioConsortia, a California and New Zealand-based agbiotech company, has made considerable progress in its field crop trials around the world.

By Alan Bullion


Published: 14 August 2015 01:25 PM


Bioconsortia is led by CEO Marcus Meadows-Smith, formerly Head of Bayer CropScience’s Biologics business, where he assumed the leadership position following the acquisition of biopesticides producer AgraQuest, driving the transformation of the company and improvements to the biopesticides sector.  


BioConsortia uses an approach similar to the method used by plant breeders to significantly improve plant traits and increase crop yields, by using directed selection informed by microbiome analysis (DNA sequencing) to discover teams of microbes that influence the expression of beneficial traits in crops.


The novel and patent-pending Advanced Microbial Selection (AMS) process specifically works by controlling the seed genetics and the environment, while changing the microbial community in order to shift trait performance in the crop toward improved targeted phenotypes.


This creates multi-tasking ‘consortia products’ applied as seed treatments and in-furrow at planting, for row crops or as a drench for high value crops.


“The advantages of AMS over the traditional, one microbe at a time evaluation approach is enormous, cutting product screening of 100,000 microbes through to discovery from three to four years down to about 9 months. We are producing highly-effective microbial products which simultaneously and synergistically perform a wide variety of important tasks, rather than just one at a time,” Meadows-Smith told The Public Ledger.



Corn, wheat, soy trials


Field trials with different crops in various countries continue apace. In addition to an expanded programme in maize and spring wheat in the US Midwest, BioConsortia will also be placing multiple leads into a sizable soybean trial set. Other future trials planned for the US include pasture (ryegrass), tomato and leafy vegetables, with additional crops in collaboration with partners.


Trials are also underway for select crops in Europe and Latin America. These trials are specifically designed to demonstrate that the consortia can significantly improve on current best practice using the best hybrids and chemical seed treatments. In addition, BioConsortia has trials to show that their consortia can improve yields both in full and reduced fertiliser regimes, improving nitrogen use efficiency, as well as trails for consortia designed to aid crops in better tolerating drought conditions.


BioConsortia has initiated several projects for soil and early season pests and diseases, including trails for nematode and corn rootworm control. For the future, there are also plans to invest in biocontrol, and metabolite expression, leading to increased sugar content, with the right partners, to expand the crop range to sorghum, cotton, and sugarbeet.


The first commercial products are targeted to reach the market in 2017, Meadows-Smith confirmed. These would be biofertilisers, for which state registrations are easier to achieve. Biostimulants and biopesticides would follow on, he added.