Ons 6 jul / År 40 / Nr 3 2022

Effective and Sustainable Plant Growth With Biotechnology

In 2016, SweTree Technologies launches its fertiliser arGrow® through the spin-off company SweTree Nutrition. It also advances its automated Somatic Embryogenesis (SE) technology for large-scale clonal propagation of conifers.

Plant breeding is as old as civilisation. With biotechnology, the prospects for improvement and the control over the breeding process is greater than ever. Plant biotechnology aims at improving the industrial and sustainable performances of crops and comprises how to make them grow faster, be more resistant and use water, nitrogen and phosphorus more efficiently. In tree biotechnology, an additional goal is to optimise the quality of the wood for different industrial purposes, such as biofuels, bio chemicals or bio materials.
Investigating these topics by analysing tree genomes and studying, at a molecular level, how plants react to different growth conditions and what happens when the expression of different genes is up- or down-regulated are areas of research pursued by SweTree Technologies in Umeå.
The R&D is firmly rooted in academia, both through close collaboration with the Umeå Plant Science Center (one of the world’s leading academic environments for forest biotechnology research) and Woodheads AB that manages the common interests of the 46 leading researchers in this field from five Swedish universities. The work has resulted in a set of technologies now commercially available.
”Our collaboration with knowledgeable scientists is very important in order to reach our vision to develop products for a sustainable future,” says Carl-Gustav Löf, CEO.
One of the products is arGrow®, a fertiliser that includes all nutrients needed for plant growth and which is commercialised by the spin-off company SweTree Nutrition. With arGrow, plant roots proliferate and live in a close and active symbiosis with micro organisms. The leakage of nitrogen to the environment is much lower, since the active nitrogen compounds binds to the growth substrate to a greater extent. Potential commercial use for arGrow is forest tree nurseries, football pitches and golf courses, among others.
”Pilot studies on golf courses fertilised with arGrow have shown that the courses become more durable and that they don’t have to be mowed as often,” says Prof. Torgny Näsholm, CSO of SweTree Nutrition.
”We’ve also developed SeedPAD for planting forest tree seeds. The SeedPAD unit has a diameter of 4-4.5 cm containing Scots pine seeds, arGrow, minerals and a polymer that easily absorbs water. With SeedPAD, seed germination rate is 70% compared to the normal 10%,” says Torgny Näsholm adding that the company’s sale prognosis for SeedPAD is 1.1 million units in 2016, with the aim of scaling-up to ten million units per annum in a couple of years.

Spruce Resistant to Root Rot
Clonal propagation, i.e. the process of asexual reproduction by multiplication of genetically identical copies of individual plants, is another area in which SweTree Technologies is very active. The company has developed an automated Somatic Embryogenesis (SE) technology, focusing on spruce for the boreal market.
”It’s the only method for realistic, cost effective, large-scale clonal propagation of conifers, which in turn will facilitate to fully capturing the genetic gain from breeding programmes,” says Magnus Hertzberg, CSO at SweTree Technologies.
”Our technology platform of clonal propagation offers a wide range of opportunities for refinement. For instance, combining analysing tree genomes with clonal propagation could enable spruce that is resistant to root rot, a disease that causes great economic loss in forestry,” says Magnus Hertzberg.
In time, it may be developed to cover coffee, cacao and banana plants as well. ”Quicker and stronger growth as well as larger yields from these plants could make farming in developing countries more profitable as well as more sustainable,” he concludes.