Advanced Seed Technology: Controlling Seed Microenvironment through Biomaterials
Ending global malnourishment in the face of surging population will require a 70% increase in food production by 2050, with the situation in Africa even more dire. Meanwhile soil depletion, climate change, water shortages, blights and pest infestations all conspire to make reaching this goal all the harder, even as concerns over the use of agrochemicals and genetically modified crops dims the long-term appeal of these technologies. The resulting explosion of research into new technologies to increase crop yield while minimizing inputs has reached a new frontier--"smart" biofertilizers. These ‘fertilizers’ are based on the application of beneficial plant growth promoting bacteria (PGPBs), rhizobacteria and symbiotic fungi to seeds and plants. In particular, seed coatings incorporating rhizobacteria to boost germination and mitigate soil salinity and drought have been proposed.
The project aims to develop a biopolymer-based technology enabling the efficient inoculation of rhizobacteria in seeds, with a targeted focus on focusing on producing results well suited to the persistent drought conditions and soil salinity of the Marrakesh-Safi region of Morocco. To achieve this, we are using crops, soil and rhizobacteria that address the agricultural needs of the Rehamna Province, where UM6P is located in Ben Guerir and has established an experimental farm. Our research is focused on structural biopolymers as a seed coating impregnated with nd rhizobacteria. In particular, we are using silk fibroin as the major coating component. Silk-based materials are well known for their ease of coating fabrication, favorable mechanical properties and ability to preserve bacteria, viruses and their organelles from hydrolysis, oxidation and photodegradation.
2018 – Optimizing of seed coating materials, understanding preservation mechanisms, extracting rhizobacteria from Moroccan soil, drought resistance proof-of-concept in lab with barley, soil and rhizobacteria from Morocco, preliminary greenhouse tests at UM6P experimental farm.
2019 – Development of a new technology to enhance seed coating and enable scale up, proof-of-concept of soil salinity resistance in a lab setting using barley, rhizobacteria and soil from Morocco, green house and preliminary field tests in the experimental farm.
2020 – On-site rhizobacteria extraction and seed coating in Morocco with adapted technologies currently available at UM6P, scale up of seed coating, and field tests at the experimental farm.
2021 – Field tests in the experimental farm simulating drought resistance and soil salinity mitigation; use of drones to gather real-time information on plant health using spectral cameras.