Symbiota's News Update

8th Edition: 11/13/15

Dear Symbiota Team,

The purpose of this newsletter is to keep the team up to date on relevant articles in Ag, microbiome space, etc., as well as informed about any company related news.

Please feel free to send any articles / content you would like in the next edition! We also welcome and appreciate feedback. Send all content / feedback to:



Articles (click on the link below to be taken to the full article)


Bread Is Broken (New York Times) – Ferris Jbar discusses the homogenization of wheat since the Industrial Age. The article profiles scientist Stephen Jones, who is working to make regional grain farming viable again by creating new kinds of wheat that combine elements from both ancestral and modern crops.

Study finds that, like people, plants need active social lives (Ag Professional) Reports on a study conducted by Canadian plant researchers, which found that plants need active social lives to survive. Coverage notes, “We now understand that a plant growing in the field is an ecosystem that relies on harmonious connections with its microbial community to thrive, especially when threatened by drought or other extreme weather conditions."

Scientists Urge National Initiative on Microbiomes (New York Times) Leading scientists called for a major project, similar to the Brain Initiative, to better understand the microbial communities that are essential to humans.

Argentina May Have Figured Out How to Get GMOsRight (Wired)– Lizzie Wade reports that Argentina is now the sixth country in the world to produce GMOs. Argentina approved a drought-tolerant soybean based on scientist Racquel Chan’s research, and notes the government also approved a potato resistant to the destructive PVY virus. Coverage also includes that Chan’s research takes a unique approach to understanding transgenic crops and views them as a tool to help farmers cope with the stresses of a warming world.

The World’s First Fully Robotic Farm Opens in 2017 (Popular Science) – Sarah Fecht reports on Spread, a Japanese company that is building an indoor lettuce farm completely tended to by robots and computers. The article notes that the factory is expected to open in 2017, and predicts the automated farming process could make the lettuce cheaper and better for the environment.

The State Of Agtech (TechCrunch) – Robyn Metcalfe, writes a contributed article discussing how the agriculture industry is being challenged to increase productivity while minimizing inputs, managing costs and respecting the environment. The article notes 2014 investments in agtech were estimated at $2.36 billion and key areas for innovation are labor reduction, safety and smarter equipment.


New Leaf Symbiotics Receives US Bacteria Production Patent (Ag Professional)

Monsanto to shutter three R&D centers in 2016, cut 90 jobs (Reuters) – P.J. Huffstutter reports on Monsanto’s plans to close three research and development centers in 2016. Coverage mentions the plan will result in the loss of 90 jobs, and notes the company’s decision to restructure operations is an attempt to cut costs in a “slumping” agricultural commodity market.

Monsanto seeks higher sales in Mexico, pending GMO corn decision (Reuters)– Adriana Barrera reports on Monsanto’s plan to double its sales in Mexico over the next five years. Coverage notes the plan depends on whether permits for the cultivation of commercial-scale genetically modified corn are approved in the country.

Bill Gates Joins $108 Million Round in Impossible Foods (Wall Street Journal) – Lora Kolondy reports Impossible Foods has raised $108 million in a Series D round led by UBS that was joined by Viking Global Investors, among others. Earlier investors, include Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Bill Gates.

Think Europe's halting GMOs? It could be heading for more (Reuters)– Sybille de La Hamaide and Barbara Lewis report that 19 out of 28 EU member states have requested opt-outs for all or part of their territory from cultivation of Monsanto's MON810, the sole GMO crop already approved for cultivation, or for pending applications.

Industry News

Study offers model to predict how microbiomes may respond to change ( Reports on microbiome research led by Jennifer Martiny, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine. Coverage notes Martiny’s team created a framework for predicting how the composition of microbial communities respond to changing conditions, stating, “Microbiologists could use this information to narrow down the reasons for differences in microbiome diversity among many samples.”

Scientists make breakthrough in potato pest control (Farmers Weekly)– Adam Clarke reports that researchers developed technology that will help potato growers protect potato crops from cyst nematode pests. Coverage notes researchers successfully mapped different population types of PCN and their findings could help growers choose appropriate potato varieties with the right resistance genetics to counter the type of pests on their land.

Is the USDA Silencing Scientists? (Atlantic) – Brandon Keim reports on the USDA’s suspension of scientist Jonathan Lundgren, who says he was punished for his controversial findings on pesticides. Coverage notes, “For anyone who cares about scientific integrity, or about agricultural practices and policies with profound consequences for everyday life, it's a disturbing allegation. The potential ramifications extend beyond Lundgren to other scientists who might be discouraged from studying important but politically contentious topics.”

Food trade group will create a 'natural' label in absence of US government regulation (Guardian) – Leah Messinger reports on The Organic and Natural Health Association’s certification program for companies that want to display a “natural” seal on their product packaging. Coverage notes the certification program is the result of several lawsuits against the ambiguous use of the term natural on food projects, and explains the labeling system will be introduced in early 2016.

Scientists Urge National Initiative on Microbiomes (New York Times)– Carl Zimmer reports on the Unified Microbiome Initiative, in which scientists are urging the White House to support the initiative in order to better understand the microbial communities as they are critical to human health and every ecosystem. The article explains the White House is considering increasing support of microbiome research, but says it has not announced a national initiative.

Marginal soil can make for good biofuel crops ( Reports on research conducted by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on switchgrass’s potential for sustainable biofuel production. Coverage includes insight from researcher Jennifer Pett-Ridge, who says the project will provide, “unprecedented insight into plant–microbial interactions that enable success under environmental stress and will provide a model for other systems biology studies of plant-microbial interactions.”

How Microbial Farming Could Help Terraform Mars (Popular Science)– Jason Tetro reports that life on mars could be possible with the help of cultivating microbial life, due to their ability to survive in specialized niche zones like crystallized brine and arid environments. The article highlights a study conducted on biodiversity in farmland and desert, that predicts within a generation we could see a properly functioning microbial niche environment.

Silicon Valley is betting we'll be eating fake meat and bugs soon (Fortune)– Vikram Mansharamani reports on a study that predicts by 2054 alternative protein sources could provide one third of protein consumption for the human population, like insects, lab-grown meat, algae and peas. The article mentions Beyond Meat as one of the companies that has invested in the future of food and alternative protein production.

The Dirty Truth About ‘Organic’ Produce (Newsweek) – Henry I. Miller reports that the term organic has little to do with the ultimate quality or composition of food. The article notes that organic foods are highly susceptible to contamination and according to Bruce Chassy, professor of food science at the University of Illinois, “organic foods are recalled 4 to 8 times more frequently than their conventional counterparts.”

NASA Astronauts Can Already Farm On Mars (TechCrunch)– Sarah Buhr reports scientists have been working alongside NASA for the last decade to grow plants in space. The article highlights Bruce Bugbee, the director of the plants, soils and climate department at Utah State University, saying, “What we have focused on is just growing a few salad crops. Growing some lettuce, growing some radishes and they help to recycle the water.”


Flagship Ventures Launches Evelo Therapeutics To Develop Microbiome Therapies For Cancer

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