Plants, too, need support in times of stress. And, like humans, drugs and chemicals are not always the best solution.
A plant hormone lab at Trent University led by Dr. Neil Emery, vice-president of Research & Innovation, recently received a $360,000 grant to develop a fertilizer that uses naturally occurring bacteria to enhance plant productivity in conditions of environmental stress, such as the effects of climate change.
The fertilizer is like a probiotic for plants, and has the potential to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and products like herbicides and pesticides.
The funding comes from the Ontario Regional Priorities Partnership Program (ON-RP3), a strategic initiative supported by Genome Canada, Ontario Genomics Institute, the Agricultural Adaptation Council (AAC) and industry partners.
“Trent University is excited and honoured to be one of the eight successful projects selected for the ON-RP3 program for agriculture and agri-food innovations in Ontario,” says Dr. Neil Emery, vice president of Research & Innovation at Trent University. “This grant is supporting a phase of research that reflects the culmination of six years of experiments and testing of strains of beneficial bacterial that produce compounds for plant growth, called cytokinins.”
The lab is collaborating with NutriAg Ltd., a Toronto-based company that specializes in the field of plant- nutrition and crop technology and is providing a portion of the ON-RP3 grant. NutriAg has already tested early versions of the bio-based fertilizer with promising results.
With the new grant, research associate Dr. Anna Kisiala, a Ph.D. graduate of agronomy from the University of Technology and Life Sciences in Poland, and Daniel Palberg, a student in Trent’s Environmental & Life Sciences (ENLS) masters program, will continue exploring productive strains of bacteria. They will use advanced mass spectrometry technology called metabolomics to develop a profile for a fertilizer that has universal applications, from vegetables to field crops. Dr. Kisiala has already surveyed 50+ strains of bacteria for plant-growth promoting characters.
Post-doctoral researcher Dr. Thien Nguyen, a graduate of Trent’s ENLS Ph.D. program, is responsible for optimizing the function of the fertilizer, by testing its application based on variations in timing, frequency or concentration.
ON-RP3 will help industry take applied research to the implementation and commercialization stages.
As the agriculture and agri-food industry—responsible for a record $36.4 billion in GDP and the creation of more than 790,000 jobs in Ontario—increasingly faces climate issues of drought, higher temperatures, lower nutrient availability and more, they are in need of solutions that can help maintain food production in these conditions and minimize further impacts to the environment.
“The honing of our novel bio-fertilizer for Ontario agricultural conditions is a great example of advancing scientific discovery towards positive economic, social and environmental outcomes,” says Professor Emery. “We are grateful to the AAC and Ontario Genomics for backing our partnership that will leverage our laboratory’s plant chemistry academic research with the cropping industry’s needs for greater yields.”
Previous stages of this project received financial support from Grain Farmers of Ontario, Saskatchewan Pulse Growers and NSERC.