Indian biotech company String Bio has announced a viable new technology that can turn the greenhouse gas methane into a valuable crop input.
Reduction of atmospheric methane – eighty times more potenti as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – presents the biggest opportunity to slow the pace of global warming, according to climate scientists.
By capturing methane to turn it into usable crop nutrition products, String Bio hopes to help farmers grow more resilient crops and improve the quality of their produce.
Using its IP protected technology, String Integrated Methane Platform (SIMP), the Indian company is the first company ever to make crop inputs from methane. It has developed and successfully trialled two methane-derived crop nutrition products, suitable for both conventional and organic farming systems. Trials show how the products can increase the yield of some crops by as much as 40 per cent.
Classified as ‘biostimulants’ii, the inputs also provide farmers and their crops with a line of defence against the effects of global warming: the threat posed by ‘abiotic stress’, environmental factors such as drought, and extremes of temperature. Abiotic stress presents a significant threat to worldwide crop productioniii as the planet’s average temperature continues to rise.
Ezhil Subbian, String Bio CEO, said:
“We’ve committed significant resources to developing and testing these novel agricultural products and understanding their mode of action. They’re based on real science that delivers on farmers’ key expectations: consistent crop yield and improved produce quality, while providing farmers with alternatives to the harsh chemicals used routinely in producing our everyday food.”
“But while we’ve focused on product performance, these products also deliver benefits beyond the farmer, to the consumer and the environment too. It’s our goal to make sustainability market-relevant, in a world where too many businesses continue to treat it as an afterthought.”
String plans to pursue a global strategy in the roll-out of its methane-derived biostimulants, particularly as the SIMP technology provides flexibility for localized manufacturing. However, India – one of the world’s largest agricultural producers – will be the initial focus for launch, followed by South-East Asia and Latin America. All three regions need to significantly increase their agricultural productivity to meet the demands from projected population growth.
About the Products
Impakt® is a blend of amino acids, both standalone and in short-chain forms known as peptides. Amino acids play a variety of roles within a plant, including as supports for chlorophyll – the molecule that not only gives plants their green hue, but which is instrumental in photosynthesis, the capture of solar energy that is central to life on Earth.
By improving photosynthetic efficiency, the crop can better satisfy the intense nutritional demands imposed by flower and fruit development, enabling it to deliver a more plentiful harvest.
Peptides trigger an immune response in plants, known as Systemic Acquired Resistance (SAR). Much like humans’ immune systems, this allows them to defend themselves against pathogens like fungi, viruses, bacteria and nematodes. Healthier plants require fewer chemical inputs such as fungicides, or other pesticides, to yield more. Because the resulting produce is better quality, it lasts longer when in store – currently, around one-third of agricultural produce is wasted in post-harvest losses every year. This represents a huge loss of productivity and wasted resources.
In String Bio’s trials, applications of Impakt® improved crop yields by up to 40 per cent in potatoes and tomatoes. Where Impakt® was used on flower crops, chrysanthemums saw a 30 per cent increase in blooms, while marigolds produced up to 50 per cent more flowerheads.
CleanRise™ is a microbial biostimulant, containing up to one billion microbes per millilitre. When applied to crops, the product stimulates important physiological processes within the plant, increasing production of critical growth hormones. Unlike conventional crop production products, the biostimulant also influences key genes within the plant, switching them ‘on’ or ‘off’ to allow the plant to reach more of its genetic yield potential.
These microbes also reduce the crop’s requirement for external nitrogen fertilizer, by enhancing what’s known as ‘nutrient-use efficiency’ (NUE). This describes plants’ ability to access nutrients within the soil. Improved NUE reduces the need for ‘top-up’ nitrogen during the growing season. Crops often fail to make full use of such applications, which then decompose into unwanted nitrous oxide gas, or leach from the soil to contaminate ground water.
CleanRise™ has demonstrated yield increases in treated crops of up to 30 per cent in leafy greens such as spinach and coriander, 18 per cent in corn, and up to 30 per cent in soybeans. Trials of CleanRise™ in the economically important crops of rice, and sugarcane are ongoing.
About the Company
Founded in 2013, String Bio seeks simple solutions to complex problems using the chemistries found in nature. By leveraging advances in biotechnology, it intends to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges: food security, health and the environment.
At the heart of String’s vision is the ability to use the carbon contained within the most potent greenhouse gases (GHGs) – such as methane – to build strong value chains to deliver safer, clean and natural alternatives to existing synthetic products, while remaining economically competitive and driving the growth of a circular economy.
By focusing on fermentation, String has used its technology to create products for human nutrition, animal nutrition, and now crop production.
String’s agricultural ambition is to help the world’s farmers deal with a twin challenge: increasing productivity (to feed a rapidly growing population) while decreasing the resources needed to do so (by improving resource-use efficiency), amidst growing climatic variability.
String’s crop production inputs aim to help farmers raise productivity on every acre of land they farm, by offering them more sustainable farm management practices and inputs that deliver healthy produce while enabling cleaner living.
Further areas of focus for String include personal care, and packaging.
ii According to the European Biostimulants Industry Council – a leading regulatory organisation in the emerging biostimulant sector – plant biostimulants “stimulate natural processes in plants to enhance nutrient uptake and efficiency, crop quality, and tolerance to abiotic stress, benefitting both plant yield and vigour. This ensures that plants have good baseline strength and health, making plants less vulnerable to stress, pests, and other threats, including climate shocks. Biostimulant products can help farmers adapt their agricultural systems to an increasingly volatile climate while enhancing food production sustainability, thereby contributing to a climate-smart farm model for the future, which is both resilient and flexible.”
iii Wheeler, T., and Von Braun, J. (2013). Climate change impacts on global food security. Science 341, 508–513. doi: 10.1126/science.1239402, https://www.science.org/doi/abs/10.1126/science.1239402