The microbes that can help save the planet

Microbes are so tiny we cannot see them with our naked eye, yet their value could be immense: these little organisms can be a game-changer in how we make food and care for our planet.

That’s what scientists at start-up Andes are working hard to nail down: designing the right kind of microbes to significantly reduce the use of synthetic fertilizer, such as nitrogen, in our farming practices. In turn, this would also reduce the environmental impact of agriculture.

They are using innovative biotechnological engineering tools to create colonizing bacteria which thrive on a crop’s roots to allow it to better capture the nitrogen naturally present in soil and air. These bacteria would also increase the long-term capturing of carbon in the soil, turning agricultural production areas into enormous carbon sinks.

We followed Andes Co-Founders, Gonzalo Fuenzalida and Tania Timmermann, through their lab in California to see first-hand how their research and experiments can make our future more sustainable.

Watch the video below:

It’s this kind of breakthrough science that stimulated Bayer to invest and support Andes through its venture capital fund Leaps.

The climate benefits of this new technology would be tremendous. As Fuenzalida explains, the use of synthetic nitrogen produces about 1.5 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Reducing that by a third, or 0.5 gigatons, would be roughly equal to all emissions from the EU agricultural sector per year.

The talent in the EU, when we look at agricultural solutions, is world class.

Paimun Aimini, Senior Director of venture investments at Leaps by Bayer

Andes’ technology could help the EU tackle one of the key agricultural objectives in the European Green Deal and its Farm to Fork Strategy: reduce the use of fertilizers by 20 percent by 2030. It would bring the bloc a step closer to meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets through more sustainable agriculture whilst ensuring food security.

What the EU needs to do more, said Paimun Amini, Senior Director of Venture investment at Leaps, is to create strong research networks to support the innovators that have the right societal solutions.

“The talent in the EU, specifically when we look at agricultural solutions, is world class,” Amini said. “The reason it tends to come to the U.S. is that there is this intellectual property system and financial ecosystem that supports and lifts it up.”