Friday, 5 August 2011

Growing plants with friendly fungi

As the UK bathed in a rain-free spring this year and global rainfall patterns are forecast to shift and alter, being able to maintain and increase food production with intermittent rainfall will become increasingly important. Researchers at the University of Exeter are looking at ways of tackling this problem by studying whether adding a safe and harmless fungus to compost boosts the growth and proliferation of crops' roots which can help them grow using less water.

The research, highlighted on the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) website, also includes trials involving a supplier to a major supermarket brand which are investigating whether the plants exposed to the fungus can be grown in the absence of fertiliser too.

Dr Chris Thornton, one of the researchers, has been studying the growth promotion effect of the fungi in glasshouse-grown lettuce. "In the absence of fertiliser you still get an amazing growth increase with a five-fold improvement in root matter," says Thornton. "This is the first time we know of that it's been tried on brassica [broccoli and sprouts] plants in the field."

In addition, previous studies have shown that the fungus has properties as a natural biocontrol agent of pathogenic fungi and could reduce the need for synthetic fungicides. For more on the research, click here.