By Kristi Cox
BioLumic recently partnered with Gro Alliance to bring Ultraviolet light-activated seed treatments to a commercial scale. The right ‘recipe’ of UV light exposure can trigger desirable results in crops such as altered nutritional profiles, pest and disease resistance, and increased yields. BioLumic’s current target is to see a 10% yield increase in crops grown from UV-treated seeds over crops from conventionally treated seeds.
“There’s science background around UV signaling in scientific literature,” explains Jason Wargent, BioLumic’s founder and chief science officer. “[Seeds have] photoreceptors specific to UV. We know that the capability of the signaling is so vast that many different things can be turned on, just through the UV signaling pathways in plants.”
Wargent founded BioLumic after studying the effects of UV light on plants for his master’s degree and Ph.D.
Biolumic’s initial work was on clonally reproduced plants like strawberries, but Wargent says he was impressed to find the treatments also worked on seeds. The company focused on soybean seeds first and then added corn, knowing that row crops are a key focus in the seed market. .
Varying combinations of UV wavelength and exposure time result in different possible treatments for seeds. Wargent explains there are an estimated at least 2.5 billion possible seed treatments that can be created with BioLumic’s platform.
The company has now completed early-stage trials on about a dozen crops and developed a streamlined process for determining a new treatment in a new crop. The process is as follows:
- Screen for existing genes that are responsive to light recipes in a target crop.
- Run trial UV light treatments on sample seeds.
- Plant treated seeds.
- Survey the resulting plants’ gene expression at the early emergence stage of growth.
- Field test seeds that show the team’s desired gene expression.
- Build and apply models of relationships between gene expression markers and desired traits.
- Record the light treatment ‘recipes’ that displayed desired traits to use again with specific crop variety/genetics.
With each trial, the models improve. BioLumic has a prototype of their commercial setup in Champaign, Illinois. Seeds travel under the lights on a conveyor belt, and treatment takes only a few seconds. The researchers can treat seeds with 20 to 30 selected UV recipes from the data model and quickly survey for desired gene expressions when plants first emerge from the soil. The seedlings showing desired gene expression can go to the field.
“One of the things we see as being really powerful for the commercialization of the work is that this isn’t like breeding where you have to spend multiple years breeding in a trait,” Wargent says. “You can turn around a recipe placement within a season. It could be done as pre-season preparation. It’s like an instantaneous production of an outcome.”
In addition to facilitating yield increase, UV technology is also useful for other targets like disease prevention and pest resistance. Early-stage data regarding soybeans and herbivores in a greenhouse experiment showed a 50% decrease in pest feeding on the leaves of plants grown from treated seeds. Source : seedworld.com