Dr. Trevor Charles has three decades of experience in bacterial genetics, molecular biology and metagenomics and is CSO at Metagenom Bio Inc. Trevor is enthusiastic about the huge potential of microbiome management in hydroponic systems for enhancing health, productivity and quality of indoor farming crops.
1. What’s your role at Metagenom Bio and how did you get involved with the company?
I am responsible for directing R&D and product / services development. Patrick Ang and I co-founded the company in 2014, when we realized a synergy between our respective backgrounds and experience in business and science that could form the foundation for a successful company in the metagenomics / microbiomics space. We identified hydroponic systems, with their unfortunate propensity for spreading plant disease causing microbes, as well as their potential for control of the microbiome, as a perfect target for application of microbiome-based solutions. This also fit well with my research experience, which has included several different types of projects in the area of plant microbe interactions.
2. How would you explain the concept of metagenomics to a lay person?
Metagenomics (and microbiomics) tells us what microbes are doing, and how they affect something. A good example is detecting the good and bad microbes that influence the health and productivity of plants. Knowledge of this information can help to improve food production by improving efficiency, reducing plant stress and disease, and decreasing the farmer’s costs. Controlled environment systems such as vertical farms are perfect for this.
3. How do you envisage metagenomics being used in indoor agriculture?
Most people involved in indoor agriculture probably don’t think too much about microbes, but the reality is that event the cleanest hydroponic systems are teeming with microbes of all sorts. These microbes are hidden from view, but DNA-based diagnostic tools (metagenomics) are now available for their detection. Furthermore, these tools can provide a description of the overall microbial community. We see these tools being used in two different, but interrelated ways. First, we can provide a measure of the “health” of the hydroponic system using DNA sequencing. Secondly, we can improve that health, by providing amendments, including inoculant products that we have developed specially for these hydroponic systems. These products have active ingredients in the form of specific plant growth promoting and biocontrol bacteria. The mechanisms that these bacteria employ to improve plant growth and protect from pathogens have been scientifically validated.
4. Which crops will be most affected and how soon?
Leafy greens, tomato, cucumber and pepper are the initial emphasis. This reflects the importance of these crops in our focus markets of Southeast Asia and North America, and in particular the Canadian greenhouse industry centred around Leamington, Ontario. Most Canadians are not aware that about half of their vegetables are already produced in greenhouses! Having said that, the application of microbiome solutions is not limited by crop, and there are benefits no matter what the farmer is growing. Our goal is for our metagenome / microbiome solutions to attain a significant presence in indoor agriculture over the next three years.
5. When will metagenomics-based products be available commercially to small farmers?
Our first product, En-Stim, which promotes plant growth and protects from stress, is ready, and is being rolled out first in Southeast Asia. It is also registered in Ohio and Michigan, and is undergoing Canadian registration. Stay tuned! We are excited about what we have in store!
See Dr. Charles Speak at 6th Annual Indoor Ag-Con on May 2-3, 2018
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