Artificial Intelligence could reveal the healing potential of plants

Researchers in England are using Artificial Intelligence to unravel the healing properties of various plant species.

Until now, synthetic herbicides and pesticides were derived from chemical compounds manufactured in laboratories. However, AI is transforming this process by designing what is known as the “perfect molecule.”

At the headquarters of the crop division of the German multinational Bayer, in the German town of Monheim, they are determined to design the next generation of phytosanitary products based on research that is the closest thing to “look for a star in the Milky Way.”

As in medicine, Plant health scientists are working to find and inhibit a certain protein in a specific organism for the protection of plants.

With the emergence of AI, the use of algorithms to find patterns in data is helping to identify the complex interdependencies that exist between an unlimited number of organisms and select those proteins much faster and with greater precision.

It is about deciphering molecular structures with their respective properties, extracting the corresponding parameters and then encoding them to make the selection and build new profiles.

Design molecules

Just as artificial intelligence creates images or texts from available resources, machine learning can also be used with the large amount of information handled in laboratories.

At Bayer they have been using AI for several years under the “design first” principle instead of carrying out tests to select molecules, as was done before.

“In chemistry we used to have only chemical data and very little biological data, but now we have a giant amount of data and we think about what we have to do in a biological way and, from the chemical point of view, what can be designed to control For example, weeds,” the director of Research and Development (R&D) of Crop Science Bayer, Bob Reiter, told Efeagro.

Part of the complexity lies in how to make wise decisions in chemical synthesis to protect plantsin addition to reducing the environmental impact and avoiding unwanted effects.

risk assessment

In order for the phytosanitary products of the future to be safe for human health and the environment, the risk assessment is carried out from the first moment, making the necessary checks while the molecules are designed, without waiting to have the product to see its environmental impact and its effectiveness in controlling pests and diseases.

Apart from the residue analysis and the metabolism of the crops that it seeks to protect, the company is also studying the effect on other organisms such as aquatic and soil organisms, wild birds, mammals and pollinators such as bees.

Reiter highlights that they use these evaluations in the design of chemical products, so that when longer-term studies are done, “there is a much higher probability that they actually meet the strictest standards that are required to have a very safe environment for the environment, people, animals and other beings that could be exposed.”

Bayer's interest in developing these products is such that last month it announced an investment of 220 million euros for research at its Monheim site, which will house a new plant protection products complex with laboratories, offices and greenhouses that will employ around 200 people.

Under this new approach, the company hopes to launch on the market at the end of this decade a new herbicide that can be applied precisely to crops that have developed resistance to the glyphosateanother substance that kills weeds.

At Bayer they have partnered with other companies to use technologies that did not even exist five years ago and thus achieve “perfect molecules” in fungicides, insecticides and other products with which they promise to obtain an average of 30% more yields on farms.

(With information from EFE)