Plants can be engineered as living instruments, to provide farmers with valuable, timely and low-cost means to measure and monitor the status of their natural resources. This will provide new opportunities for empowering local choices about what to do with local crops, rather than bringing in crops and methods from elsewhere. Such engineering integrates the use of novel methods of molecular biology with the basic understanding of a field problem1 and a farmer-centered view about overcoming real challenges to sustainable, profitable crop production.
Sentinel plants, or bioindicators, have long been used in many agricultural systems to empower the farmer to make good decisions about land use, such as what to plant where and when to add expensive or labor-intensive inputs such as fertiliser, water and pesticides. A well-known example is the traditional planting of roses at row ends in vineyards. The roses show early symptoms of fungus that may affect the grape crop, therefore providing an early signal to the farmer to arrange for fungal control of the grapes, appropriate to the local soil, weather and consumer preference. A biosentinel can be any species that can grow on the land of interest concurrently with the crop of interest, or at the best decision time. It receives a signal from the environment and translates it in a way that is readily observable by people who can then decide what to do about it. The signal could even come from the crop itself: for example, leaves beginning to wilt signals that fruit set will be hurt unless there is more water.
To see more about patents and patent applications that cover the field of bioindicators or biosentinels, click here.
1 Jefferson, R.A. (1993) ‘Beyond model systems: New Strategies, Methods, and Mechanisms for Agricultural Research‘, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 700: 53-73
See presentation:”BiOSentinel Plants: Enabling Farmer Choice”. M.B. Connett Porceddu and R.A. Jefferson (2007) Hainan, China.