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Developing biopesticides and biofertilizers for agricultural and horticultural needs

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As the medical marijuana industry grows into the mainstream for recreational use, so is the need for technology that ensures a viable crop. Like all cultivated plants, cannabis needs fertilizers to grow and pesticides to protect itself from diseases and death, and if Dr. Martin Filion has anything to do with it, they will not be the chemical kind.

A microbiologist and a precision agriculturalist at the university’s Moncton campus, Dr. Filion studies the beneficial organisms that live in soil on and near the roots of plants. Since it is the place they call home, many of those beneficial microbes have evolved mechanisms that help protect their host plant from diseases and/or promote plant growth and yield. Dr. Filion’s laboratory studies these mechanisms at the genetics and molecular level to ensure choosing the right microorganism for the right job!

“Right now there are more and more issues with pesticides. The more we look at chemical ones, the more we want to remove them from the shelf,” says Dr. Filion. “Organic is the big thing today, and developing biopesticides from natural beneficial microorganisms is economically viable as many of the organisms we work with are easy to grow, and cost of production is low. We also study microorganisms to be used as biofertilizers to boost plant productivity and yield, again compatible with organic production,” he went on to say.

For marijuana grown inside, many diseases may affect the plant, as well as stresses that may alter plant growth and therefore reduce yield. This can be disastrous for producers, and finding ways of treating these, ideally environmentally friendly ones, is important.  

“By keeping the soil or soil substrate enriched with targeted beneficial microbes, it is now possible to protect the plant from disease development and promote health and productivity. Dr. Filion’s laboratory works on developing biopesticides and biofertilizers to be commercialized for agricultural and horticultural needs. A patent pending number has recently been obtained for one of the microbial strains isolated and characterized by Dr. Filion’s group to be used as a biofertilizer.

Dr. Filion’s research on plant‑protecting and growth promoting microbes is much farther reaching than marijuana. The methods he is developing can be used to discover similarly functioning microorganisms for all types of crop, indoors and out, that are already naturally there. Dr. Filion’s team also works in close collaboration with two other researchers at the Université de Moncton interested in cannabis research: Dr. David Joly who works on the genetics of the plant, and Dr. Étienne Hébert-Châtelain who works on cannabinoids and their beneficial impact on human diseases.

Article was written by Chet Wesley (writer for the Atlantic Business Magazine)