With more than 20 years’ experience, the top cutting-edge biotechnology paves the way for integrated solutions that Probelte provides within the agricultural sector. The secret, however, lies very much in the profound knowledge of microbiology that the company’s professionals have. Choosing the right microorganisms is both an art and a science, and by doing this properly, products such as Bulhnova have become successful points of reference in the sector.
I+D, the corner stone in agrobiotechnology
Microorganisms are in the spotlight in the agro-bio sector. While ‘traditional’ solutions, based on salts and chemical products are becoming less efficient, biotechnology offers a series of new, distinctive tools which evolve along with the sector’s needs. Bacteria, fungi and yeasts have inside workings which are a lot more sophisticated than any plant produced by conventional means.
But it is the laboratory, by means of modern, accurate techniques, that the most interesting candidates are chosen, which will be used to carry out all types of tasks. Tasks such as biofertilization, in other words, fertilization adjusted to meet individual crops’ needs, or the selective defense against particular plagues without affecting or contaminating the plants’ surroundings.
The laboratory is the place where investigation and development, better known as I+D take place, something which allows for knowledge to be gained and convert the potential that microorganisms have into real tools, available to be used by farmers. “At this moment in time, products based on microorganisms are a differentiating element in agro-companies”, explains Jonatan Campillo Brocal, doctor in molecular microbiology and investigator in the I+D department of Probelte. “Biotechnology offers many more possibilities nowadays which were unheard of in agriculture decades ago”.
To be precise, having been in the sector for more than 50 years, Probelte began to work with biotechnology in 1997, opening its agrobiotechnology plant in 2002, 20 years ago now. Since then, an impressive strain repository has been built up, with all different types of microorganisms registered in the Spanish type culture collection. “We have various patents and a dozen biotechnological products available in the market and another dozen or so prototypes”, says the expert. Among the 16, 000 square meters used for agrobiological production and investigation, there are laboratories used for microbiology, entomology, phytopathology and molecular biology. This is not only an achievement but also a need in the company’s development.
The identification of microorganisms, a differentiating factor
Without a doubt, the properties of microorganisms which are capable of promoting growth, fixing nitrogen, transporting nutrients or inhibiting insect plague growth, are of incalculable benefit to the farmer, who can take advantage of all of these traits and others, such as how selective they are or their minimum or non-existent impact on the environment. In order to reach the balance which allows for the use of these properties, however, certain cutting-edge techniques have to be used which allow for the correct organisms to be identified.
“The process starts with bioprospecting and the isolating of strain which could be of potential interest”, explains Dr. Campillo. “To explain it very briefly, from here we go on to the characteristics of the microorganism and its selection in the laboratory. Next comes the grading and the verification of the production. A good formulation is gained and its testing in the fields to check its effectiveness in a real setting is the next step. Products based on microorganisms which are validated are included in our portfolio and become another solution that we can then go on to commercialize”, he adds.
A key aspect in the identification of the organisms of most interest is in their characterization. Besides the ‘classic’ tests they undergo, in which parameters such as nitrogen fixation, phosphate, potassium and calcium solubilization are measured, in Probelte, other, more modern techniques are used which give more accurate results in the search for the most suitable organisms.
“In the molecular biology laboratory, by means of mass spectrometry, the metabolic profile of each strain is obtained in order to identify possible secondary metabolites which may be of agronomic interest”, he continues. “Also, using genome sequencing allows us to determine the genetic potential of our microorganisms so that they can be used to their full potential. We have recently begun with metagenomic studies which permit us to understand the action mechanism of our products via the microbiome associated with the plant”. These molecular biology techniques, which are amongst the most modern that exist, are a differentiating factor and are a fundamental advantage in the discovery of strains of most interest in the sector.
Bulhnova, a success story
Among Probelte’s products, you can find insecticides, biofertilizers and the recent range of biostimulants. Bulhnova is probably the product which stands out most as a particularly important success story. This growth booster has shown improvements in crop development conditions, helping to reduce or substitute conventional fertilizers, reducing nitrate and other salt contamination, and stimulating production.
“Bulhnova is based on the grouping of two strains: Azospirillum brasilense M3 and Pantoea dispersa C3, especially selected and formulated for the product”, points out Dr. Campillo. “These mutualistic, free-living associative microorganisms fix the atmospheric nitrogen and solubilize phosphates, giving them to the plant. They also produce metabolites which stimulate growth and defenses, improving plant health”. According to greenhouse and outdoor trials Bulhnova leads to overall better maintenance and crop production.
Besides improving the availability and absorption of mineral nutrients, an increase in wellbeing of the edaphic structure has also been observed, preventing soil depletion. As nitrates, potassium salts or chemical phosphates are not added, there is impact on the environment, but rather respectful, avoiding soil and water contamination, thus allowing it to be certified as en ecological product.
In other words, Bulhnova is a perfect example of what investigation and development of the most modern biotechnology is capable of: a clean, safe, efficient product which encourages farming practices most suitable to a growing population, guaranteeing production. “Bulhnova could play a key role in the solving of certain environmental problems such as water contamination by nitrates”, adds Jonatan Campillo. “It is a great example of how good investigation can identify useful tools amongst microorganisms and turn them into real solutions for the world we live in” confirms the expert.