Guillaume Wegria
2016, Belgium
Helping plants to grow in spite of the droughts caused by climate change
Biotechnology

Climate change is not only threatening to elevate the global temperature but also to alter precipitation patterns, both in terms of quantity and frequency. The meteorological conditions in agricultural regions are changing, and local species that live in moderate climates with light rain patterns are beginning to suffer prolonged periods of drought, often followed by torrential rains, which limit crop yields. To help crops to adapt to this new climate, the young Belgian Guillaume Wegria has developed a bio-stimulant that has placed him amongst the winners of MIT Technology Review´s Innovator Under 35 Belgium 2016 awards.

Bio-stimulants are molecules that trigger plants´ metabolisms by activating response mechanisms which encourage growth and adaptation to adverse environmental conditions. Wegria´s company, Fyteko, produces Nurseed, a substance capable of increasing plants´ resistance to prolonged droughts. Thus, where plants would normally die of dehydration, those treated with Wegria´s product maintain yields of up to 80%. This increased resistance to drought will be especially vital in regions where water is an increasingly precious natural resource.

"Plants have mechanisms that allow them to adapt to water stress," the young bioengineer explains. So the options are either "to create genetically modified organisms that have these stimulated metabolic paths, or we can add substances to the environment that stimulate them," he adds. Wegria´s products rely on the second approach, which avoids the need to genetically modify crops with a supplement in the form of the molecule he has developed.

According to the professor, researcher and dean of postgraduate studies at the Monterrey Institute of Technology (Mexico), Jorge Welti, "the mechanisms for modifying the metabolism of the proline have been known for over 20 years." But, in the opinion of this jury member for Innovators Under 35 Belgium 2016, "the merit of this proposal resides in the way this knowledge has been put into practice in such an innovative, simple and low cost way."

Text in Spanish from its original source: MIT Technology Review Spanish edition