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Biotech

Indigo Agriculture looks to make agriculture a growth industry

Can microbial coatings mean seeds that are drought and pest-resistant?

Cambridge, MA - 02/16/16 - Geoffrey von Maltzahn, founder and CTO, (cq, left) and David Perry, CEO, (cq) in the Indigo greenhouse, with soy plants grown from probiotic seeds. Lane Turner/Globe Staff Section: BIZ Reporter: Nidhi Subbaraman Slug: 19betabugs
Lane Turner/Globe Staff/file
Geoffrey von Maltzahn (at left), Indigo Agriculture co-founder, and CEO David Perry in a greenhouse of the company’s soy plants.

If you want to start an agricultural revolution, think small. Microscopic, even. That’s the idea at Indigo Agriculture, a Boston startup that hopes its custom concoctions of bacteria and fungi will remake the world’s food supply.

Those tiny organisms already live inside plants and affect their growth in much the same way that human gut bacteria can alter how our bodies function. Indigo’s bet is that by changing the mixture of microbes, it can coax the plants into thriving in harsh conditions. While largely unexplored, the plant microbiome holds the tantalizing promise of making plants more resistant to drought or pests without chemicals or genetic modifications.

Indigo already has two commercial products, varieties of cotton and wheat seeds treated with its special microbial coatings. Last year, the company tested 50,000 acres of its cotton seeds to determine the plant’s tolerance for low-water conditions, and it says the result was an 11 percent increase in yield. Investors like what they see: Indigo raised $100 million last summer and is rapidly expanding in the old Hood dairy plant in Charlestown.

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“We now know definitively that we can produce valuable products with the plant microbiome,” says CEO David Perry. “The question is, can we fundamentally change the industry? We believe we can.”

Curt Woodward is a Globe staff writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.