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Plant Microbiome Project aims to improve crop yield and stress resilience

January 27, 2015

U of S – Symbiota project awarded Genome Canada funding to develop natural plant microbiome products for improving food crops

University of Saskatchewan microbiologists Vladimir Vujanovic and Jim Germida have been awarded $1.9 million through Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program to work with Cambridge, Mass. based plant microbiome company, Symbiota™, on a $16-million research project aimed at dramatically improving yield and stress resistance in food crops.

Symbiota is pioneering plant microbiome solutions that naturally promote plant health and improve agricultural production by harnessing the beneficial microbes that reside within plants. Symbiota is developing products that form symbiotic partnerships with plants to support healthier, more stress tolerant crops.

“Building on an exciting discovery from U of S plant, microbial, and soil sciences, this international research project promises new tools for farmers to help feed a growing world population,” said U of S Vice-President Research Karen Chad. “We thank Genome Canada, Genome Prairie and Symbiota for supporting this critically important research partnership.”

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization forecasts world food production must increase by 70 per cent to feed another two billion people by 2050. This challenge must be met despite diminishing freshwater resources, rising energy prices and the need for crops to adapt to the pressures of a global climate that is expected to be drier, hotter and more extreme.

Professors Vujanovic and Germida have discovered a new group of microbes within plant cell tissues that have novel mechanisms of plant interaction, enabling substantially improved seed germination, yield, and drought- and heat-stress resilience in more than 20 varieties of wheat, barley, pulses, and canola.

The U of S and Symbiota researchers will use cutting edge tools to evaluate and field test crop-microbe combinations that hold promise for developing breakthrough agricultural products.

“By using a new group of microorganisms found within healthy plants, we are naturally improving the plant’s response to stresses and increasing yields under severe climatic conditions,” said Vujanovic, an associate professor and Agri-Food Innovation Chair in the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources who holds a prestigious Agri-Food Innovation Chair supported by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture.

“This approach can help farmers and the environment by speeding up the process of variety improvement, developing crops which are healthier and produce higher yields,” said Germida, a U of S soil science professor well known for his studies on the biodiversity and community dynamics of microorganisms in agro-ecosystems. “We are grateful to the Genome Canada-Genome Prairie and Symbiota teams who share a vision in pushing forward leading food security research.”

“Symbiota is excited to partner with the U of S on this important project and we thank Genome Canada for their support,” said Geoffrey von Maltzahn, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Symbiota. “We look forward to applying our groundbreaking insights into the plant microbiome to offer a step change in crop performance and make a sustainable positive impact on farm operations.”

“There are remarkable commercial opportunities to be gained through the application of microbial and plant sciences, and Canada’s agriculture industry is leading the way. This project is a remarkable example of how provincial support for basic research has resulted in a U of S-developed technology that has real world benefits, sustainable economic returns for local farmers and the potential to positively impact agriculture on a global scale.  Genome Prairie is very excited to partner with the U of S and innovative companies like Symbiota,” said Genome Prairie’s Chief Scientific Officer Chris Barker.

Wheat, corn, soybean, canola, barley, and pulses stand to benefit from the project — crops that account for more than $15 billion in annual production in Canada alone. They are also critical sources of calories, protein and essential nutrients for much of the world’s more than seven billion people.

The U of S-Symbiota project is one of 12 across the country announced under Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program, which backs research to address real world challenges and opportunities as identified by industry, government, not-for-profits and other end users of genomics research.


About Symbiota

Symbiota™ is pioneering plant microbiome solutions that naturally promote plant health and improve agricultural production by harnessing the beneficial microbes that reside within plants. By unlocking the power of the plant microbiome, Symbiota is developing products that form unique partnerships with crops to naturally protect plant health and promote yield. Founded by the Flagship Ventures innovation foundry, VentureLabs, Symbiota has built the first platform for product discovery and generated a large pipeline of candidates in globally important crops, including corn, soy, wheat, cotton and vegetables. For more information, please visit


About the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources

The College of Agriculture and Bioresources continues to build on a legacy of co-operative partnerships and innovative research in its role in the development of agriculture and food industries in Saskatchewan.  With a proven record as an international leader in applied research and scholarship, the college actively pursues knowledge across a wide range of scientific and social domains, from food and bio-product sciences, environment, and ecology, to community and sustainable production systems.


About Genome Prairie

Genome Prairie, a non-profit-organization, aligns partners and resources to develop and manage research projects addressing key regional priorities in the agriculture, human health, environment, energy, and mining sectors. These efforts are playing a central role in building the region’s reputation as a location of choice for innovation and commercialization. For more information, visit


About Genome Canada

Genome Canada is a not-for-profit organization that acts as a catalyst for developing and applying genomics and genomics-based technologies across multiple sectors to create economic and social benefits for Canadians. Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program initiative is a major milestone whose main goal is to move genomics-based solution from laboratories to society. For more information, visit




Jennifer Thoma

Media Relations Specialist

University of Saskatchewan




Quyen Van

Communications Officer

Genome Prairie


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