Scientist are learning that tiny, symbiotic fungi play an outsized role in helping plants survive stresses like drought and extreme temperature changes, report scientists at Washington State University.
We all know that some bacteria and fungi cause disease, but there are just as many that work in harmony with plants, helping collect water and nutrients in exchange for the carbohydrates and carbon that their plant-partners provide. These microscopic organisms can also change the external environment in ways that benefit the plants and help them grow.
Many of these benefits help plants better tolerate what’s known as abiotic stresses, which include things like drought, extreme temperatures, and poor, toxic, or salinic soil. Plant-microbe biologist Stephanie Porter says plants’ abilities to tolerate stress are directly impacted by the bacteria and fungus around them, much like the microbes in our own digestive system helps to keep us healthy.
Setting out to measure how beneficial microbes affect plants under both normal conditions and stress, Porter and plant pathologist Maren Friesen reviewed 89 research experiments ranging from common Northwest food crops to wild species. Working with colleagues at Michigan State University and WSU, they compared five different classes of symbiotic bacteria and fungi that live on, in, and around plant roots, under stresses that included fungal diseases, grazing by animals and microscopic worms, heavy metal contamination, and drought, cold, and saline soil.
Results showed that while beneficial bacteria are more helpful in normal conditions, symbiotic fungi provide added benefits during crises. Particularly beneficial were arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, which colonize plant roots, provide water, and enhance uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other micronutrients in the soil. Their findings support a slew of other research that points to similar benefits.
As it turns out, about 90% of flowering plants worldwide engage in a symbiotic relationship with a fungus that colonizes root systems. One thing that’s been known for quite a while is that fungus amplifies and extends the range of the plant’s root system, allowing it to absorb previously inaccessible soil nutrients. These fungal networks are called mycorrhizae, and it is now thought that mycorrhizal associations are what originally allowed plants to colonize Earth 450 million years ago.
These dense networks not only bring more micronutrients to plants, they also form a protective shield against soil-borne pests and pathogens, enveloping the root tips and protecting them from attack. This, in turn, reduces the need for the application of chemical pesticides and fungicides.
Although successful in attaining yield increases in trials, using mycorrhizal fungi is more time-consuming and labor-intensive than the simple purchase of agrochemicals, and this continues to prove a barrier for all but the most motivated farmers. What’s more, the use of chemical fertilizers like urea tends to kill off essential soil bacteria and fungi, so trying to adopt such a system poses challenges.
However, there are a growing number of agricultural companies and start-ups conducting research in this area. Some larger-scale projects with a focus on studying plant microbiomes in an agricultural setting include Unified Microbiome Initiative, Genomic Standards Consortium, Earth Microbiome Project, National Microbiome Initiative, among others, which hope to bridge the knowledge gap in current understanding of the functional roles of microbiomes. Fungal bio-fertilizers and fungus-coated seeds are already becoming more widespread and showing great promise for sustainable yield increases.
I’m actually invested in and helping a company called Holganix that is advancing works in microbial soil space. I first learned about their success because professional golf course superintendents, professional baseball teams and football teams were using their microbial products on their grass. I am now helping them with trials and developing new market share in agriculture. I am extremely excited about the fact Holganix has been named a finalist in the “Radicle Challenge” by Corteva. As a note, Corteva was formerly known as Dupont Agriculture prior to their merger with Dow. Barrett Ersek, CEO of Holganix will be attending the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in March where he will be pitching “Shark Tank-style” before a panel of impressive “Who’s who” in agtech. Barrett recently told reporters, “At Holganix, we are on a mission to empower farmers and nourish soils to deliver improved yields and improved sustainability,” explains Barrett. “We believe that Radicle Growth’s background in the agriculture and food space will help us fulfill Holganix’s mission and create a true and lasting impact in agriculture.” You can learn more about the “Radicle Challenge” HERE
If you want to learn more about Holganix and the trials and acres we are seeing the best results… call our office at (816) 322-5300 or simply send my son Jordan an email at firstname.lastname@example.org he will forward you out the information. (Sources: Science Daily, Phys.org)