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Introducing the Hologenome Concept

The efficiency and environmental impact of food production is a major challenge facing the world today. Over the past decade, many scientific advancements have allowed us a better understanding of how the animals and plants in these systems function, and the role which beneficial microorganisms play in supporting these functions. This understanding has paved the way for new, more sustainable approaches to food production. Like humans and animals, plants are comprised of their own cells and are also intricately associated with many different microorganisms.  The hologenome theory, which is an evolutionary concept that considers this partnership to be a single unit, provides a framework for supporting plants’ natural processes and impacting their resistance to certain environmental factors. This concept offers the opportunity to influence the fitness of crops without genetic modification, and in turn, maximize the success of farmers. Read on to learn more about the hologenome concept and how growers can leverage this framework to enhance yields and the bottom line.  

Making Sense of the Microbiome

A plant’s microbiome may comprise both helpful and potentially harmful microorganisms. Those that benefit the plant are considered symbiotic, while those that cause disease are referred to as pathogenic.

More than 30 years ago, Lynne Margulis coined the term holobiont to describe the partnership between a host and its microbiome. It is derived from the Greek word “holos,” meaning whole. Microbes in the microbiome bring additional genetic diversity to the host. The combined genotypes of the host and its microbiome are referred to collectively as the hologenome. The holobiont then expresses traits, or phenotypes, which arise from the combined genetic diversity of host and microbiome.

So how did the modern hologenome concept come into being? It originated with observations made by two researchers, Rosenberg and Falkovitz, regarding bleaching within coral reef populations caused by a pathogenic bacterium. Rosenberg and Falkovitz observed that certain corals had acquired resistance to the pathogen even though corals do not have an immune system capable of producing antibodies. Their data suggested that the surviving corals had developed a microbiome that would help them resist the pathogen by the luck of the draw. This new “holobiont” of coral and microbiome was best suited for survival during the outbreak. 

This led Rosenburg and Falkovitz to question if there are outbreaks of “bad” bacteria, then why not outbreaks of “good” bacteria as well? Such outbreaks would likely go unnoticed, and the only evidence of their occurrence would be the quiet spread of beneficial traits throughout a host population, steering the evolutionary process. These initial observations have since given rise to the modern Hologenome Theory of Evolution, which includes other animals and plants, including humans and our domesticated crops.

Helping Plants Overcome Yield-Limiting Factors

Farmers hope that their crops can thrive even in the face of challenges. These challenges, referred to as yield-limiting factors, can negatively impact crop yields. Yield-limiting factors include technical practices, biological stressors like diseases and pests, and environmental stressors such as climate conditions, soil fertility, topography, and water quality.

To overcome these factors, some farmers provide plants with nitrogen fixers, phosphorus and zinc solubilizers, or bacteria that produce enzymes and metabolites, all of which will enhance growth. The limitations of this “soil inoculation” approach include reliance on a particular type of bacteria, which may or may not succeed with the given crop type, soil condition, and geography.  In addition, it can be costly for farmers to thoroughly populate the microbiome of the soil with beneficial organisms for the plant.

As an alternative to soil inoculation, a lower dose of carefully selected microorganisms may be applied to the growing crop in a targeted fashion, augmenting its hologenome.  This supports the expression of natural traits by the new holobiont, which protects the soil with native beneficial microbes. Plants have evolved natural processes for better interacting with the soil microorganisms to gain access to the best possible microbial partners available in their environment, and the expression of these processes can vary based on the composition of the plant’s hologenome.

Certain microbially-enhanced fertilizers possess a mode of action required to take this approach and support what evolution has already done. Plants have evolved their genetic structure, or genotype, over millions of years. By populating the plant’s microbiome with organisms that support the expression of different phenotypes, or observable characteristics, farmers enable the plant to make the most of what it has available in its environment. For example, these solutions can help plants express traits that maximize nutrient uptake, stimulate populations of “good” bacteria in the soil, or enhance resistance to pathogens. This gives them a greater chance of survival.

Putting the Hologenome Concept to Use

Agriculture is a complex science that can take years to truly perfect. Farmers must rely not only on the knowledge passed down to them from generation to generation, but they must also be aware of the natural processes that impact farming.  Plants have evolved alongside their microbial counterparts over millions of years, and with a greater understanding of the hologenome concept, growers can better support their crops, produce more robust yields, and be more profitable.

Farmers who choose fertilizer enhanced with BiOWiSH® Crop Liquid are better equipped to overcome their toughest agricultural challenges.  Featuring our proprietary HoloGene 3™ technology, it creates a high-performance partnership between the plant and BiOWiSH® microorganisms. The new alliance has a combined genetic profile (the hologenome) that enhances native microbial activity in the soil, promotes soil quality, and supports the plant’s natural ability to resist environmental stress. This optimizes crop yield potential by increasing nutrient availability and improving soil productivity and plant vigor.

Learn more about the positive impact that BiOWiSH® Crop Liquid can make in your farming operation by downloading our infographic or visit biowishtechnologies.com/product/crop-liquid/ for more information.