Harnessing soil microbes to address farmers' biggest challenges
Plants and microbes evolved together, helping each other grow and thrive as a dynamic ecosystem. At Joyn, we learn about the individual members of these ecosystems, how they interact with one another, and their unique contributions to the health and resilience of the ecosystem. We improve individual members to develop them as microbial products to help farmers grow food more sustainably.
Our first challenge: Nitrogen
Nitrogen is essential for plants to grow. But today, most fertilizers are produced industrially using methods that require large amounts of fossil fuels and produce high levels of greenhouse emissions.
Plants like soybeans, peanuts, and other legumes can obtain nitrogen from bacteria that live in the soil.
Crops like corn, wheat, and rice don't have the same relationship with these nitrogen-fixing bacteria. We can identify bacteria that colonize these cereal crops and fix some nitrogen but aren’t able to provide meaningful levels of nitrogen fertilizer to the plant. We therefore work with the aim to improve their ability to provide nitrogen fertilizer to plants, so that farmers can significantly reduce the amount of industrial nitrogen fertilizer they need to apply in order to attain maximum crop yields.
Our approach: Synthetic biology
We use advanced techniques in biology to study and engineer naturally occurring soil microbes and their nitrogen-fixing genes. While there are many microbes that can fix nitrogen in the soil, these bacteria need to be engineered to increase the amount of biological nitrogen fertilizer they produce before they can make a meaningful impact for growers and the environment. We engineer the DNA of these naturally nitrogen-fixing bacteria using synthetic biology, enabling them to provide nitrogen to plants more efficiently.