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‘A dating service for plants and microbes’

Meet the Network
MycoNourish MycoNourish

A ‘dating service for plants and microbes’ is how Peter Orrell, founder of MycoNourish, describes his company which is creating customised strains of mycorrhizal fungi that are tailored to suit specific crops.

The company has recently been selected out of 2,550 companies for inclusion in the FoodTech 500.
MycoNourish is a spinout from the James Hutton Institute and aims to release its first commercial products later in the year.

Specialised microbes enhance plant performance

The  initial focus for MycoNourish is optimising the performance of strawberry and tomato plants by influencing specific growth traits, helping to maximise crop quality and reduce wastage.

Peter explains: “We work with specialised microbes that help enhance crop production in agriculture, enabling more produce to reach the Class 1 standards required by supermarkets.”

“Mycorrhizae are beneficial fungi that live in the soil and enhance a plant’s performance by essentially acting as a secondary root system for the plant, improving access to nutrition and water resources.

“However, when the mycorrhizae colonise a plant’s root system they have a range of complex biological interactions, such as causing genetic adaptations in the plant which result in precise changes to how the plant grows. Genes get switched on that wouldn’t be on without this particular strain of fungi – and those adaptations can, for example, help more flowers to survive, or improve the quality of the nectar in the flowers which then improves pollination and that in turn improves the shape of the fruit. Each of these changes depend on which strain of mycorrhizae is used, so it’s vital to pair the right strain for each crop.

“We are building on this knowledge by taking a personalised medicine approach, using carefully selected mycorrhizae to optimise the crop.  For example, one mycorrhizal strain can increase the number of flowers on the plant, another that can increase the speed of flowering and the timing to fruiting. And yet another to improve health and resilience. We are able to use our groundbreaking technology to provide customised mycorrhizal solutions which are tailored to suit specific crops.”

Commercial product

We are developing a product that consists of ‘propagules’ of our fungal strain wrapped in a carrier material selected for the type of crop.

“We are initially working with two high-value crops, strawberry and tomato. It is really important for growers to maximise crop quality, as currently up to 10% of the crop fails to meet the Class 1 standards needed for retail, which means the grower is often forced to sell produce at a loss, or food is wasted at the primary production stage before it ever reaches a supermarket or consumer.”

A dating service 

“What we provide is a ‘dating service for plants and microbes’ – we help to match the best possible microbe for the particular crop, and its specific problems in production. Each strain is isolated from the others to ensure it produces consistent and reliable results.”

We’ve developed a library of these new customised strains, so when growers of a new crop ask for help, we can screen that crop against the fungal strains that we’ve created. Based on the growers’ desired outcome, we pick out a high performing mycorrhizal strain that is tailored to solve a specific problem in that crop’s production.

MycoNourish raises funding to improve crop production with innovative customised microbes

“Building this library took years of work. But now we can select a strain for a new crop within one growth season of that crop – so if we take something like June-bearing strawberries, that’s just a 60-day crop from planting to harvest – so we can move very quickly.”

Beneficial to field and undercover crops

“The value that the fungi bring varies slightly between culture systems and the needs of the crop.”
“For indoor systems, the plants have perfect environmental conditions and all the nutrients they need, so we’re not looking to improve plant nutrition, but instead we can, for example, alter aspects such as the ‘flowering phenology’ – to bring forward the window from flowering to fruiting, this results in a shorter development time and earlier fruit production.

“Out in the field we’re getting stronger plants – strawberries have a predetermined number of flowers they can produce in a growing season and commonly a portion of those flowers will abort during development due to suboptimal conditions, but with our mycorrhizal strains, we’re finding more of those flowers are surviving and going on to produce viable fruits; boosting yield.

“The product is set to be commercially available later in the year. We’re currently scaling up production ahead of launching the first two products.

“Our vision as a company is to sustainably enhance crop  yields, by taking the dynamics that occur in nature, and refining them for use in agriculture – providing increased profits for growers, environmental benefits, and a reduction in food wastage.”

MycoNourish will be joining other innovators at ‘Agri-Tech and ELMs – the Innovation Enablers’ on Tuesday 22nd March at 10:00 am – 4:00 pm at Rothamsted Research.

At this in-person event farmers and advisors involved in these early trials will be sharing their experiences – warts and all – and innovators with potential solutions will be giving quick-fire presentations. Measuring, monitoring and getting paid are all challenges to be discussed at this interactive event.