Over 2,000 plant endophyte strains explored as natural biostimulants
The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) has launched the nation’s first Plant Endophyte Research Center to champion sustainable solutions for enhanced agricultural production around the globe. The Center leverages private and public partnerships and funding, an elite team of scientists dedicated to the field of biostimulant research, and exclusive equipment and testing services to further their work.
“I am excited to announce IALR’s Plant Endophyte Research Center, which accumulates years of research and expertise and positions IALR as a world leader in this critical research field,” said Mark Gignac, Executive Director of IALR. “Helping to protect the environment while satisfying the consumer demand for healthier food is a truly inspiring motivator.”
By first isolating and characterizing endophytes, or beneficial bacteria, from regional plants, IALR scientists then use these endophytes as a toolbox to fight common crop diseases and to increase overall plant growth and health. Additionally, technology, such as next-generation DNA sequencing, robotic and drone imaging, and data analytics, is used to find precisely what formulations work best in a crop-specific and environmental situation.
With a library of 2,000 endophyte strains already identified, IALR is well on its way to demonstrating the potential rewards of these natural microorganisms. Such benefits could include the reduction of chemical fertilizer use, the improvement of soil quality, the preservation of the environment and sustainable agricultural solutions—all while helping increase crop yields and plant health. IALR is already working with well-known industry players on licensing agreements and continues to actively seek other collaborators and research partners.
Although great effort has recently been directed toward endophytes, the field of study is relatively new and much is to be learned. To take advantage of this untapped reservoir of beneficial organisms and byproducts, IALR scientists are currently focused on isolating bacteria from plants in the Blue Ridge Mountain Region. This region, one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges, is characterized by immense ecological diversity. Once isolated and purified, the most promising endophyte candidates are screened for growth promotion, drought resistance and disease inhibiting characteristics.
“Considering agriculture and forestry are Virginia’s largest industries, our team of researchers at IALR are focused on improving agricultural production naturally through biology and technology,” said Dr. Scott Lowman, Director of Applied Research at IALR. “We are spotlighting biotechnology in the form of beneficial plant bacteria endophytes, the products they produce and mechanisms they possess to engineer faster growing and healthier plants.”
IALR operates between the realms of academia and industry, allowing its scientists a unique environment for sustained endeavors. They can venture into new areas without the constraints of highly competitive grant funding and can partner with industry in an IP-friendly manner. IALR researchers capitalize on their knowledge of fundamental research and heed industry principles of robust IP, ownership, scale-up and shelf life.
The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research serves Virginia as a regional catalyst for economic transformation with advanced learning, applied research, advanced manufacturing, conference center services and economic development efforts. IALR’s major footprint focuses within Southern Virginia, including the counties of Patrick, Henry, Franklin, Pittsylvania, Halifax and Mecklenburg along with the cities of Martinsville and Danville.