Pinpoint Phenomics has developed a system that allows the producer to quickly measure the internal signals a plant makes in response to the environment, revealing the equivalent of ‘what a plant is thinking.’ Its business plan has won the 2015/16 GROW agri-tech business plan competition for the non-student category.
Philip Wigge and Calum Murray of Innovate UK at the GROW final
Plants are highly responsive to the environment and switch genes on and off rapidly, and how genes are expressed determines the overall yield, or crop “phenotype.” For example if the plant is deprived of light it will grow spindly and pale in colour until it finds a source of light. By tapping into the signals within the plant it is possible to determine the cause of the underlying stress – lack of water, shortage of nutrients, attack from pests – and improve these conditions before they impact crop yields.
Pinpoint will analyse plant samples to give the grower advance information on crop performance.
The method is also likely to be useful for breeders seeking to identify varieties with optimal combinations of traits.
Pinpoint was co-founded by Philip Wigge and Surojit Biswas. Wigge runs a research programme in the Sainsbury Laboratory at Cambridge University that studies how plants sense temperature. Biswas, who originally studied in the Wigge group, is now a PhD student at Harvard.
Pinpoint uses a combination of wet-lab methods and machine-learning algorithms developed by Biswas and Wigge to accurately but cheaply understand plant gene expression.