Adverse environmental conditions due to climate change, combined with declining soil fertility, threaten food security. Modern agriculture is facing a pressing situation where novel strategies must be developed for sustainable food production and security. Biostimulants, conceptually defined as non-nutrient substances or microorganisms with the ability to promote plant growth and health, represent the potential to provide sustainable and economically favorable solutions that could introduce novel approaches to improve agricultural practices and crop productivity. Current knowledge and phenotypic observations suggest that biostimulants potentially function in regulating and modifying physiological processes in plants to promote growth, alleviate stresses, and improve quality and yield. However, to successfully develop novel biostimulant-based formulations and programs, understanding biostimulant-plant interactions, at molecular, cellular and physiological levels, is a prerequisite. Metabolomics, a multidisciplinary omics science, offers unique opportunities to predictively decode the mode of action of biostimulants on crop plants, and identify signatory markers of biostimulant action. Thus, this review intends to highlight the current scientific efforts and knowledge gaps in biostimulant research and industry, in context of plant growth promotion and stress responses. The review firstly revisits models that have been elucidated to describe the molecular machinery employed by plants in coping with environmental stresses. Furthermore, current definitions, claims and applications of plant biostimulants are pointed out, also indicating the lack of biological basis to accurately postulate the mechanisms of action of plant biostimulants. The review articulates briefly key aspects in the metabolomics workflow and the (potential) applications of this multidisciplinary omics science in the biostimulant industry.
Keywords: abiotic stresses; biostimulants; food security; growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR); metabolomics; plant defenses.