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Change the Microbes

By tweaking microbial circumstances, farmers are trying to change modern agriculture, Wired writes.

The agricultural company Indigo, it notes, sells bacteria to be sprayed onto seeds, potentially replacing fertilizers. Some 50,000 acres of cotton treated with an Indigo product to help the plant better grow in low-water conditions are to be harvested this fall, Wired reports.

While other ag companies like Monsanto and DuPont are getting into microbials, Wired notes that Indigo is focusing its energies on the microbes of the endophytes, bacteria that live inside plants, rather than those in the soil. Plants pass these bacteria on in seeds.

"I think we have one the largest collections of endophytes now," Indigo CEO David Perry tells Wired, "and we're just getting started." They've collected samples from across the world, from both crop and wild plants.

"This fall's cotton crop, sprayed with Indigo's first commercial bacteria product, will be the true test of how much bacteria can improve a harvest in a world challenged by drought," Wired adds. "If it works, great. If not, Indigo has hundreds of bacteria it can keep testing."