Agricultural biologicals (or biologics) are beneficial crop production and protection tools that are derived from natural materials, contain them, or use naturally-occurring processes. They use nature’s own defenses to help safeguard plants against pests. Ag biologicals are an important part of our commitment to encourage diversity in modern agricultural practices by providing a broad range of solutions to support farmers. Our collection of more than 125,000 microbial strains allows us to use genetic diversity to develop new and beneficial products for farmers all over the world.
Microbes are a fundamental part of nature. In fact, most soil is saturated with microorganisms—a tablespoon of soil could contain around 50 billion of them.
Microbes have also been used in our food for thousands of years — from bread to cheese, yogurt, beer, wine, vinegar, soy sauce, sauerkraut, injera, kimchi, and even the preparation of chocolate. In agriculture, products are being developed that contain microbes and can be applied to the surface of seeds to complement — or provide an alternative to — chemical agricultural products.
Our research aims to discover more about how microbes can help farmers grow healthier crops and improve their harvests. Our experts spend years studying which microbial strains will most help plants thrive, and in which specific conditions. Each year, our researchers screen more than 10,000 microbes in vitro.
The use of microbial products can affect the outcome of a harvest just as easily as a farmer’s choice of seed or fertilizer. For example, farmers can decide to use a microbial product that grows as their crops’ roots grow, which can increase the availability of valuable nutrients like phosphate or nitrogen that plants need to thrive.
We are also developing products that engage a naturally occurring process called RNA interference (RNAi).
RNAi has been naturally present in cells for hundreds of years. For example, RNAi is the reason most soybeans are yellow. But the underlying process was discovered in the 1990s and opened new areas of research in human, animal and plant health.
Cells of animals and plants use the instructions from thousands of genes in DNA to make important building blocks like proteins. These instructions are written out in a molecular “recipe” (also known as mRNA). Like a cook adjusting a recipe for a meal, cells use RNAi to reduce the use of a specific mRNA so that just the right amount of a particular protein is made. RNAi is so specific that it can stop the production of a pigment gene, so soybeans are yellow instead of black, without affecting thousands of other important “recipes.”
Our researchers and others in the field have learned how to use biological signals to trigger RNAi for specific genes that can result in better disease and pest resistance, increased yields or improved quality.
Researchers in recent years have made great discoveries and advances in microbial and RNAi technology. However, there is still much to learn in this area. We believe, through continued research and development, agricultural biologicals will expand choices available to farmers by offering a wide range of applications in the future.