Thomas Knight, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Southern Maine (USM), in collaboration with Pat Unkefer, Staff Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), have developed exciting new plant growth technologies capable of significantly increasing plant productivity and yield. These new technologies are the result of long-term joint efforts between USM and LANL. The new technologies have been patented, licensed by two plant biotechnology companies and are presently in various stages of commercialization. This technology is applicable to a wide variety of agricultural systems and has a real potential to positively impact global food security, which must address the needs of a predicted population of nine billion people by 2040.
The foundation of these new technologies is the discovery of a naturally occurring plant compound which functions as a signal metabolite enhancing and coordinating the two primary metabolic pathways for carbon and nitrogen. Up regulation of plant carbon and nitrogen metabolic pathways increases efficient resource utilization, which results in better plant growth, higher productivity and yield.
The first licensee, Biagro Western, has conducted extensive field trials on multiple crop species using either seed treatment or floral spray application of the natural occurring plant compound. These field trial studies have shown that with only two or three applications of the compound over the entire growing season yields increased from 30 to 60%. Based on this technology the second licensee is developing a suite of genetic strategies so plants can continuously overproduce the signal metabolite to obtain even greater yields. The focus of phase one of their efforts is on lines of corn, wheat, rice and potato. Phase two crops, those having a lower global economic value but significant global importance such as tef, millet, and yams will be developed next.