Scientists Identify New Soil Microbe That Could Enhance Crop Performance
A recently isolated soil microbe could be used to modify crops and protect them against fungal diseases, a new study published in Phys.org has found.
Researchers at the Agriculture and Food Development Authority have identified a new bacterium which can modify plant characteristics and provide beneficial traits, such as resistance to disease. It is not the first time scientists have used bacteria to genetically modify plants. Agrobacterium tumefaciens also called “the world’s plant engineer” has been harnessed for many years to generate genetically modified crops around the world. Over 180m ha of crop that have been modified using Agrobacterium are grown around the world each year.
However, there are limitations to using this particular bacterium, including patents and technical challenges. Now researchers have found an alternative to Agrobacterium, which may even be able to modify a wider range of crops more effectively. This new discovery is called Ensifer adherens and is collected from the rhizosphere – the microbial community that lives in the soil around plant roots.
E.adherens works by changing the genetic material of the plant by a process called Ensifer-mediated transformation (EMT) whereby the plant genome is engineered by the bacteria, and characteristics are modified. The new micro-organism is identified by plans as a friendly symbiotic bacterium and so provokes a reduced response from treated plants. Thus, E.adherens may be more successful in treating elite plant varieties.
The team has already demonstrated the potential of EMT to generate potato varieties with late blight resistance. Late blight is well-known for being the cause of the 1845 potato famine in Ireland. The diseases, caused by a fungus-like mold called Phytophthora infestans, continues to cause major losses in global food production and thus costing the potato industry over EUR1bn in chemical usage and yield losses each year.
Using genes isolated and characterized from wild potato species, EMT can generate potato lines resistant to late blight in around 12 months. The time it would take to achieve a similar effect with traditional breeding practices is around 12 years.
It is hoped that introducing novel genetic resistance such as this to crops will reduce the need for fungicides in agriculture.
The researchers predict that there are many more bacteria in the rhizosphere which may be able to modify plants in the same way as Ensiferand Agrobacterium and may even be able to transform a wider range of crops. Most importantly, crop-specific rhizobia can be identified with the capacity to support crop productivity further against the wide range of challenges currently facing food production system.