Agri Kultuur December / Desember 2018 - Page 20

‘Soil probiotics’ promise bigger, healthier crops, but there’s a downside Adam Frew Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Charles Sturt University M ore than half the world’s plant- derived energy intake comes from just three crops: rice, wheat and maize. These crops, like most land plants, live in an evolutionarily ancient partnership with a certain type of fungus, called arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. By helping plants take up nutrients from the soil, these fungi can enhance crop yields, increase pest resistance, and reduce the need for fertiliser. So, it’s hardly surprising that there has been a long-held interest in harnessing these soil-dwelling fungi for agriculture. These fungi penetrate plants’ roots, even entering the root cells themselves. In a win- win relationship, the fungi provide the plants with crucial nutrients and the plant provides the fungi with sugar. But our research shows that in some cases these fungi can harm crops instead of helping them. This means we need to proceed with caution in pursuing the benefits of using these fungi as fertilisers. AgriKultuur |AgriCulture 20