Rapid and Reliable Bioassays for Plant Biostimulant Performance

14 Submissions
$10,000 + study funding
Challenge under evaluation

Challenge overview


Can you collaborate with ICL to assist with bioassays that shorten the screening process for novel plant biostimulants and predict their performance in the field?

ICL, the Seeker for this Challenge, increasingly incorporates biostimulants in its products. These increase yield and improve crop quality and tolerance to abiotic stress conditions. Standard procedures to assess performance require trials that may take a few months to complete. ICL is looking for simple and quick bioassays to make the screening process more efficient and predict the biostimulant efficiency in the field.

This is a Prize Challenge which requires a written proposal to be submitted. Awards will be contingent upon the theoretical evaluation and experimental validation of the proposal by ICL to demonstrate some level of proof of concept. For this Prize Challenge, Solvers are required to transfer non-exclusive rights to the Intellectual Property (IP) in their proposed solution, to be awarded.

There are monetary prizes up to $10,000 in total available for solutions that meet the criteria, with a minimum prize amount of $2,500 and a maximum of 3 awards. ICL then has the capability to fund an initial study for award winners to further test the final chosen method themselves or for ICL to organize the initial study, with a resource of up to $100,000 available (but not committed) to this project.

Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on December 31st, 2024.

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ICL, a global manufacturer of products based on unique minerals, fulfills humanity’s essential needs, primarily in three markets: agriculture, food, and engineered materials.

The experience, knowledge, and professionalism derived from establishing Israel’s potash industry over 80 years of intensive activity and significant investment in R&D have transformed ICL into a world leader in specialty fertilizers, bromine, and flame retardants.

ICL produces approximately a third of the world’s bromine and is the world’s sixth-largest potash producer and one of its leading producers of pure phosphoric acid.

ICL’s global operations are supported by worldwide distribution and supply chains. Our mining and production sites are in Israel, Europe, North and South America, and China. ICL employs about 13,000 people worldwide.

Employees of the ICL Group and its subsidiaries are ineligible to receive awards for this Challenge.

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Biostimulants affect metabolic cycles in plants. While the desired functionality of the bioactive is understood, the complex nature of the plant’s biological system, the many interactions within the plant, between the plant and its surroundings, and its responses to the changing environmental conditions make the phenotype prediction challenging.

Bioactive compounds repeatedly show positive results in controlled environments in the lab but fail to perform in the field. Developers assess the effect by weighing grains or the dry weight of the plant at the end of the experiment or assess qualitative and quantitative parameters at this stage. However, looking at these bottom-line figures does not always reveal the whole story.

Some systems continuously monitor the plant, especially from an evapotranspiration perspective, providing more information to analyze the changes within the experiment. However, the correlation between growth chamber or greenhouse trial results and performance in the field is still poor. 

Bioassays help us listen and understand what plants go through. Like a doctor listening to their patient’s story and physically examining them after prescribing a certain medication to connect the dots and understand the effect of this medication, we want to help plants tell us how a bioactive affected them.


The Challenge

In this Challenge, ICL is searching for proposals leading to faster, more reliable bioassays for biostimulants with a higher correlation between test and field results. Your solutions or mature technologies with at least some level of proof of concept should be able to predict the efficiency of chosen biostimulants in the field, while providing fast and widely-applicable screening methods.

Improving the efficiency of bioassays through solutions, methods, and technologies will create a high-throughput process, enabling ICL to focus on only the promising candidates and continue growing better crops at higher yields.


Current Approaches

Current approaches split between those used by companies and research groups. Companies usually use these approaches:

  1. Measuring Plant Growth Parameters at the end of the experiment: plant height, biomass, yield, root length, surface area, and root volume
  2. Analyzing nutrient content in plant tissues, such as leaves or roots.
  3. Assessing nutrient use efficiency (NUE) by comparing the nutrient inputs with plant growth and yield
  4. Field Trials

Research groups use, in addition to the above, these approaches:

  1. Chlorophyll fluorescence to assess improvements in photosynthesis.
  2. Measuring the activity of specific enzymes involved in nutrient uptake and stress responses, like nitrate reductase or antioxidant enzymes.
  3. Analyzing changes in the plant's metabolite and protein
  4. Studying the composition and diversity of the plant-associated microbiome
  5. Gene expression analysis (qPCR), microarray, and RNA-seq
  6. A promising approach to predict the effect in the field is using digital twins.

Some approaches require the addition of biomarkers, while others do not.


Areas of potential interest

  • The use of biomarkers in experiments
  • A combination of approaches of simulation tools, bioassays, and modeling
  • Digital Twins – in silico vs in vivo
  • Predictive Modelling and algorithms
  • Predictive Biochemistry[HC1] 

The following fields may offer interesting solutions as challenges there are similar:

  • Medical cell culturing and R&D
  • Other areas of AgTech



Your proposal or solution should fit the overarching goal: a simple and quick bioassay to make the screening process of plants more efficient and predict the efficiency of chosen biostimulants in the field. This means your proposal or solution should fit a high throughput concept by supporting rapid bioassay screening of various biostimulants on various plants and across conditions.

This simple technique to accelerate the testing of biostimulants to predict their field performance will help to accelerate R&D and increase time-to-market for higher-performing products.

Your solution or approach would ideally complete all the tasks in the Current Approach section at higher speeds and a higher level of prediction; however, if your solution can only improve parts of the process, that may be of interest. For example, suppose your approach helps ICL to qualitatively judge biostimulants by detecting a single stress marker rather than the whole range. In this case, please submit your method so ICL can understand and ask you more about this capability.

Your solution may suggest several bioassays for different requirements or conditions or crops. You should exhibit some level of proof of concept. It may utilize cell cultures rather than whole plants.


Must have:

  1. Speed of Bioassay – the chosen bioassay should provide a reliable result within 14 days – please give as much detailed evidence as possible on the speed of your bioassays of biostimulants.
  2. Prediction of Bioassay Performance in the field from bioassay results – your approach should be able to predict yield response in the field accurately (that may include various conditions of abiotic stress) with a good correlation (R2>85%) to results in the field – please provide as much detailed evidence as possible.
  3. Reliability of Bioassay – robust measurement with good repeatability and reproducibility across conditions
  4. Applicability of Bioassay – your proposal must be functional across a range of crops, conditions, and biostimulants[HC2] 
  5. Software Licensing – if your proposal includes software components, ICL will require a license to use this software. Submissions that include software that ICL cannot purchase or license the use of will not be considered.


Nice to have:

  1. Data reporting and analysis – if your proposal or solution integrates reporting aspects (e.g. on speed, rate, reliability, correlation to field results) into the bioassay of biostimulant process itself rather than having to be calculated manually.

Solutions with Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 6-9 are invited, proposals about developing or mature approaches and/or WHO can provide these.

This is a Prize Challenge, which has the following features:

  1. The best solutions in this Prize Challenge have the opportunity to win from the award pool of $10,000 USD for meeting all solution requirements, as solely determined by ICL. There is a minimum prize amount of $2,500 and a maximum of 3 awards.
  2. Awards will be contingent upon the theoretical evaluation and experimental validation of the proposal by ICL to demonstrate some level of proof of concept.
  3. ICL has the capability to fund an initial study for award winners to further test the final chosen method or for ICL to organize the study, with a resource of $100,000 available (but not committed to) this project.
  4. For this Prize Challenge, Solvers are required to transfer non-exclusive rights to contents in your submission in order to be awarded. ICL may subsequently directly request that certain IP arrangements be agreed upon should a partnership be pursued.
  5. ICL may also issue “Honorable Mention” recognitions for notable submissions that are not selected for monetary awards.



Please login and register your interest to complete the submission form.

The submitted proposals must be written in English and can include:

  1. Participation type – you will first be asked to inform us how you are participating in this challenge, as a Solver (Individual) or Solver (Organization).
  2. Solution Stage - the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of your solution, TRL1-3 ideation stage, TRL4-6 proof of concept stage, TRL7-9 production ready stage.
  3. Problem & Opportunity - highlight the innovation in your approach to the Problem, its point of difference, and the specific advantages/benefits this brings (up to 500 words).
  4. Solution Overview - detail the features of your solution and how they address the Solution Requirements (up to 500 words, there is space to add more, and to add any appropriate supporting data, diagrams, etc).
  5. Experience - Expertise, use cases and skills you or your organization have in relation to your proposed solution (up to 500 words).
  6. Solution Risks - any risks you see with your solution and how you would plan for this (up to 500 words).
  7. Timeline, capability and costs - describe what you think is required to deliver the solution, estimated time and cost (up to 500 words).
  8. References - provide links to any publications or press releases of relevance (up to 500 words).

Wazoku encourages the use by Solvers of AI approaches to help develop their submissions, though any produced solely with generative AI are not of interest.

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Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on December 31st, 2024.

Late submissions will not be considered.

Your submission will be evaluated by the evaluation team first reviewing the information and content you have submitted at the submission form, with attachments used as additional context to your form submission. Submissions relying solely on attachments will receive less attention from the evaluation team.

After the Challenge submission due date, ICL will complete the review process and make a decision with regards to the winning solution(s), according to the timeline in the Challenge header. All Solvers who submit a proposal will be notified about the status of their submissions.

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