Biological Alternatives Offer Hope for Restoring Biodiversity

This week, the United Nations is meeting in Montreal for the UN Biodiversity Conference. The conference brings together leaders from around the world to discuss how to prevent loss of biodiversity and how to restore habitats that are already hurting.

In the world of agriculture, the creation of new, biological alternatives to synthetic products is a promising strategy for the future of biodiversity and a major area of interest for innovators. A biological alternative, put simply, is a product that identifies a plant’s natural resistance to an environmental stressor and amplifies that quality to create an exceptionally successful version of it. The introduction of such products offers an effective and more environmentally friendly substitute for synthetic chemicals, which we now know to be toxic to the environment (and sometimes to humans as well). The scientists and startups in the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) are working to create these products and, in turn, a healthier future for people and the planet.

How Biologics Promote Biodiversity

Synthetic chemical products can negatively impact soil health. Unhealthy soil makes it difficult for a diverse population of plants to grow, which diminishes food sources for pollinators and other insects. When insect populations suffer so do the birds that eat those insects, and so on up the food chain. Poor soil is bad for biodiversity.

In the past, synthetic pesticides and fungicides have been necessary to ensure sufficient crop yield to meet the demand of the eight billion people living on Earth. The threat of harmful insects, bacteria, and fungi is growing with globalization and climate change. Warming seasons allow these pests to thrive throughout months of the year that have previously been too cold to support them, and changing climates have allowed them to expand the range of their habitats to new areas. Globalization and the increased dispersal of materials around the world has allowed pests to travel to non-native habitats; there, in new territory, they can have particularly severe effects on native plants and animals that have no natural resistance to them.

As these stressors worsen, the need for effective fungicides and pesticides grows. But the prolific use of chemical synthetics is not sustainable. This is where biological alternatives come in, offering a tool to fight agricultural threats without waging war on the environment.

“Switching from synthetic to natural products can positively impact biodiversity,” said Elliott Kellner, PhD, Director of Commercial Innovation at the Danforth Center. “Considering the complex connections among ecosystem components, avoiding unintended outcomes from the use of synthetic crop amendments can potentially yield broad improvements in ecosystem function and resilience.”

Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator Innovators Lead the Way

Two of the companies selected for this year’s Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator cohort are doing the work necessary to make new biological alternatives come to life. Robigo of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is creating targeted, environmentally friendly biopesticides that will clear the way for healthier soils and more productive crops. Cytophage of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is designing bacteriophage to target pathogenic bacteria that impacts crops. And Peptyde Bio of St. Louis, Missouri, develops biofungicides as a natural solution for combating fungal diseases.

The Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator pairs select startup companies like these with the world-renowned scientists at the Danforth Center, granting them cost-free access to our facilities and expertise. The extensive research and data that are necessary to take an idea from a dream to a reality can be extremely cost-prohibitive to small startups. By aiding startups in this stage, the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator positions promising innovators to see their ideas realized and on the market.

“The best plant researchers on Earth are here at the Danforth Center,” Kellner said. “The expertise of our research teams is the core value proposition of the IN2 program.”

To learn more about the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator, visit its page on our website.