Thursday, 19 May 2011

Defensive soils improving plant immunity

A report from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the Netherland's Wageningen University has found that plants rely on a complex community of soil microbes to defend themselves against pathogens, in a similar way to the way that mammals harbour a raft of microbes to help fight infections.

Previous work on the phenomenon of disease-suppressive soil has identified one or two pathogen-fighting microbes but this new study has identified a much more complex microbial network.  17 microbes, working together, were identified which suppress the pathogen which causes root fungus in sugar beet.  The scientists behind the work believe that their discovery that 'plants use a tight-knit army of soil microbes for defence' could help to develop better ways to protect crops from disease and therefore reduce wastage.

Soil from a sugar beet field in the Netherlands was studied and it was found that pathogen-fighting microbes in the soil suppressed the pathogen Rhizoctonia solani, which causes root fungus in the crop.  To return the favour of protecting the crop, beet funnels about a fifth of their photosynthetically captured carbon through their roots into the soil to fuel the microbes.

This kind of research ties in neatly with the concept of biological farming, 'a method which focuses on stimulating soil activity, on the basis that healthy soil grows healthy pastures and crops that produce healthy animals.'  Read more about it here.