Scientists from the National University of Singapore are studying the genetic material of microorganisms in crops. Understanding and cultivating specific microbes can help improve crop production, increase food security, and decrease the use of chemical fertilizers.
The study looked at three Asian green leafy vegetables packed with nutrients: Chinese cabbage, broccoli or kale, and spinach*. The research collected samples from a commercial urban farm in Singapore.
Using metagenomics, a study of microbial communities, the study identified close to 300 bacteria groups. Metagenomics is an important tech innovation. The technique allows scientists to sequence the DNA of “meta” or many organisms without having to separate each microbe. Thus saving researchers time.
The hope is that understanding microbes and how the types contribute to crop growth will lead to “innovative solutions to boost local production in a highly sustainable manner”.
On the Importance of the Microbiome and Metagenomics
The microbiome refers to the genetic material of all microbes. Our increasing knowledge of the microbiome has led to advances in the way we approach health and wellness from our gut to skincare. For this reason, we use probiotics for gut health. And natural skincare focuses on nurturing the skin’s microbiome, rather than disrupting it with constant cleaning.
In the same vein, researchers hope that understanding the DNA of microorganisms found in a plant’s phytobiome (the plant and all the organisms around it), will promote healthy and sustainable plant growth.
Sustainability: Innovations and Simple Changes
Tackling sustainable farming and food security comes from various fronts. First, how we can increase food production in a sustainable manner, spearheaded by tech innovation. Second, building a more efficient supply chain, and third consumer behavior. As scientists find ways to boost food production, consumers can also contribute to securing our food supply.
Americans waste about 30-40% of the country’s food supply (USDA) and about 133 billion pounds of food a year. By not overbuying and purchasing “ugly produce”, such as those sourced by Misfits Market, we can all do our part in building a more robust food supply chain.
*Note that the study used Chinese names of the vegetables, choy sum (cabbage), kai lan (broccoli or kale), and bayam (spinach).