Probiotics for soil, autonomously deployed, remotely monitored.

This breakthrough focuses on adding genetically modify bacteria & microbes to the soil, fermenting them at large scales and combining them in different amounts or ratios to improve soil health and consequently plant and human health and the environment.

@JohnIngram, @Coyote, @Aderemi, do you have thoughts on this potential breakthrough?

We want to determine if a) this would be impactful enough to qualify as a breakthroughs, and b) if anyone else, other than XPRIZE, is likely to work on this - or already working on this?

Would appreciate your input! Thank you.

This challenge is framed as a solution rather than a problem that needs to be solved. Perhaps this needs to be reframed to tackle a more specific food production problem? For example, what if the challenge is to replace chemical herbicides (reducing chemicals in our soils, water, and foods) with bioherbicides?

The chemical herbicide problem is major: 1. Weed Resistance (eg. at least 29 weeds are now resistant to RoundUp); 2. Consumer concerns; 3. Law suits; 4. Environmental concerns; 5. User exposure (potential carcinogens); 6. Disposal of used containers/remaining herbicide concerns; 7. Industry dominance through pairing of chemical sales with chemical-resistant seed sales; 8. Effect on non-target organisms; 9. Effect of chemical herbicides on microbiomes of consumers and farmers; 10. Global industry is dominated by a handful of companies.

The chemical herbicide industry is $34 Billion/year. The bioherbicide industry is emerging (less than .01%) and not funded (RFPs are generally targeting crop-breeding or new chemical processes). There is tremendous room for research and growth as very few teams are working on this. It is easy to find articles on all the 10 concerns above…but very hard to find alternative solutions.

It is the arrogance of man that thinks we can do nature better than nature. There are wonderful natural microbes that we could grow and inoculate with. Using manure and other carbon based, but still alive soil amendments will let the land heal. @ClaireBaker has it right. The chemical pursuit program is a Cat in the Hat Comes Back story, except there is no “voom” to fix it all… yet!

Thank you both for sharing your insights!

Let me try to get a few more experts into the discussion and see what they have to say.

@jsubrama, @Gudbjorg, @ychen53, would love to read your take on this!

I am mostly familiar with fertilizers, but there I think we can do a lot with microbes, and companies like PivotBio are doing a great job there. But it has so far been a slow process, and it is often best applied in combination with chemical nutrients - that is why Atmonia is working on a sustainable Nitrogen process.
The use of manure can also be useful at a moderate amount, but it can be unreliable and has some health and environmental safety concerns. In terms of the bio-based fertilizers, there a company called Elemental Digest Systems is doing very interesting things in that regard.
I think we should really be looking at a diverse array of solutions, instead of looking for one that is going to save everything - especially in agriculture, it is simply so diverse.