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Crop's Little Helper

Startup company Indigo plans to help feed the growing global population by giving crops their microbes back, the Verge reports.

Indigo researchers have spent two years analyzing the microbiomes of common row crops and comparing them to the microbiomes of heirloom plants, as well as studying and comparing the microbiomes of plants grown with traditional methods to those grown using modern pesticides, the Verge says. They then sifted through the data they collected to identify important microbes that aren't that common in modern agriculture.

By restoring these microbes, the company says it's had 10 percent higher yields. It declined to name what microbes it has replaced as it is filing patents, the Verge notes.

Indigo says that it was prompted to look at plant microbiomes following the increased interest in the human microbiome.

But Vincent Young, a microbiologist at the University of Michigan, tells the Verge that plant researchers as ecologists have long been interested in the interplay between plants and microbes. "They are framing it as coming from the study of humans because there is so much fuss and hype around the human microbiome," Young adds. "Their approach seems comprehensive and modern, but nothing necessarily new."

Still, he notes that Indigo's approach could work.

"As the global population grows, the microbiome offers one of the most promising avenues for increasing yields without harming the planet," the Verge says, adding that it could also yield big profits.