June 2024 Issue: True agricultural innovation only happens through community.

By Marie Turner, PhD, Creative Director & Head of Science Communications at Impello Biosciences

Hello again folks!

We’re back again with another newsletter. I’ve noticed that when I sit down to write any sort of content for Impello, I struggle to not turn it into a book-length manuscript of all the things I am excited about, so in the spirit of creating something you actually want to/have time to read I made a plan for this edition:

I’ll introduce myself. I’m kind of shy, honestly, but I think it is probably useful for the reader to understand from whom this disembodied newsletter voice is coming and how I fit into the Impello community.

I’ll provide an update on research trials in our bay at Colorado State University. Because of our relationship with the university community, we’re able to accomplish so much more. 

I’ll talk a little bit about microbial consortia and why I think “community” is an essential concept for anyone who is growing plants for a living.

Maybe you noted that in all three of these areas, I use the word community. It’s not by accident. Whether I am using community to describe how I work with people of diverse talents at Impello to achieve common goals, how Impello works with a diverse community of industry professionals, university researchers, and expert growers to achieve shared knowledge, or how we work about with microbial communities to achieve healthy agroecosystems, community is key. 

So who am I and why am I here?

I am Marie Turner, your newsletter voice; though my Impello community helps me make it useful, readable, and worth your time. My job title is “Creative Director and Head of Scientific Communications” –– kind of a mouthful, I know. Technically, I head marketing at Impello, although, as you’ll read below, I don’t really think of what I do as marketing.

My relationship with soil started when I was small. My mother was raised on a farm and so growing our own food was a big part of my own childhood. Some of my earliest memories are of her teaching me how to care for plants: showing me how to carefully loosen roots of tomatoes for transplanting, or gently cover seeds with soil, or tend young communities of plants so that their yields could feed us all year long. 

Much, much later, with my attachment to growing things firmly in place, I got a BS in Horticulture, and later, a PhD in Plant Genetics and Breeding. I’ve had agricultural jobs in academia, industry, and the USDA, and I’ve worked in growing systems from tissue culture to greenhouse to dryland and irrigated fields. I’ve been involved in research spanning tree crops, bananas, turf grass, wine and table grapes, garlic, sorghum, barley, dry bean, potato, wheat, hemp, and likely others I have lost track of in the more than two decades I have been working in ag. 

Then, at some point in my journey, I started to become frustrated with the way science is often communicated. The longer I was in science, the more I felt like information that could be valuable and accessible was often kept out of reach with really confusing language, or research that could matter to farmers was kept squirreled away in academic journals. So, at little at a time, while working other jobs, I went on to get a graduate degree in English with the idea that I could find a way to do better. Most recently, I was a researcher on an NSF (National Science Foundation) grant studying how scientists, growers, and policy relate to agricultural microbial products through the language and concepts they use

I’ve taken the job here at Impello for two big reasons. The first is probably obvious: I genuinely believe in the power of microbes and biologicals to make agriculture into something that not only makes lands a richer, healthier place for the generations to come, but simultaneously supports the yields and livelihoods of our customers. I don’t believe that these two things are mutually exclusive. 

And second, I believe, especially in an industry where growers have been so burned by inconsistent products, marketing is not about “selling things to people”, but rather about giving people good and credible information and products and trusting they will make choices that work for them. Working with the academic and local student community to test and improve our products is just one way that we can do this.

What trials are going on in the Impello Greenhouse Bay @ Colorado State University?

At our Colorado State University research facility, we work to both answer grower questions about existing product lines and also expand possibilities of what biologicals can offer to growers in the future. This collaborative relationship with CSU enables us to run many trials at once and to engage with the student community (our projects double as undergraduate and graduate research projects!). Just a few ongoing trials are: testing efficacy of monosilicic acid (Dune) to prevent fruit splitting and vine breakage of hydroponic production tomatoes; testing the efficacy of a unique, plant-immune stimulating, hybrid fertilizer (Tundra) to increase bioactive medicinal compounds in echinacea; and testing a soon-to-be-released plant immune system stimulant on the efficacy of root-born pathogen control in celery. I’m also excited to mention we are also in the refinement phase of a v1 product to address the problems of drought in agriculture. This microbial consortia is being designed as a community of organisms that will work together to support plants under tough conditions such as water limitation and water quality (salt) stress.

So what is a microbial consortium, and why does Impello spend so much time thinking about them for agriculture?

Consortia are defined in different ways by different people. They can be communities of naturally occurring microorganisms, or they can be groups that are designed by humans to accomplish a specific task and it is a topic I write about. For example, consortia have been used for a long time in bioindustrial applications like in manufacture of biopharmaceutical or other valuable compounds, or, for instance, because they can metabolize (do away with) toxic substances, they are being used to remediate water and land resources and investigated as a way to contend with our plastic problem. Microbial consortial communities are responsible for your beer, your cheese, your bread and your yogurt. Whether found in nature or designed (or coaxed) by humans to do a specific job, my favorite definition of microbial consortia is a community of microbes working together to accomplish a goal or make a system better.  

I think the most direct analogy for what microbial communities can do in agriculture is to how the probiotics we consume support human health. Most supplements are designed to make the gut a diverse and resilient place which makes human bodies less prone to problems of infection or disease. But, in addition to high-level improvement, individual microbes in probiotics have specific abilities like helping us digest particular foods more effectively. Likewise, our current microbial products (like Tribus, Continuµm, and Komens) address these same dynamics: they are designed to make the field a healthy place where there isn’t room for pathogens, but also, the species they contain have specific agricultural functions like fixing or solubilizing important nutrients. 

Some microbial communities are cultured separately as individual species and then added to a final product as ingredients and some undergo what is called co-culturing, which is when the community of different microbe types are grown together. At Impello, we think of co-cultured microbial consortia as a fuller expression of what microbes are capable of in agriculture, because when they are co-cultured together, the microbes in the group not only have a chance to pre-adapt to each other, but also, through their communication (microbes are social organisms!) which they accomplish through signaling with small molecules, they create a broth that is full of compounds that are valuable to crops. If you are interested in learning more about co-culturing, I am writing a series of pieces about the concept, benefits, and science of how it works. You can find the first of these pieces here

Well that does it for this time around folks! Next time around, I’ll have an update on some of our trial results, and spend some time thinking about what we mean when we use big concepts like plant “health” or plant “immunity”. And, please, feel free to shout out with ideas for what topics you want to see explored. I rely on your questions, your concerns, your knowledge to help make what I can offer better, and in this way, you, dear reader, are also an important part of this community

Until next time, keep on growing,


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