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Monsanto bets on AI to protect crops against disease

Deep learning could quickly find defenses against viruses and pests.
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Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Monsanto has drawn plenty of criticism for its technology-driven (and heavily litigious) approach to agriculture, but its latest effort might just hint at the future of farming. It's partnering with Atomwise on the use of AI to quickly discover molecules that can protect crops against disease and pests. Rather than ruling out molecules one at a time, Atomwise will use its deep learning to predict the likelihood that a given molecule will have the desired effect. It's whittling down the candidate list to those molecules that are genuinely promising.

The move could save massive amounts of time and money. Monsanto notes that typical crop protection takes 11 years to reach the market, and costs $250 million to develop. The AI collaboration could help the company turn a quicker profit, of course, but it could also help the agricultural industry tackle diseases and infestations before they do too much damage. It might also give researchers more time to look into possible side effects that could harm benign insects and bacteria.

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