Not all microbes are bad. Recently the importance of the microbes in the guts of humans is becoming clear, but it’s not just animals that benefit from the microbes inside of them- so do plants, and these microbes could have potential in farming.
Endophyte is a name given to microbes (bacteria and fungi) which live within plant tissues, but are not harmful to the plant. In fact, they are probably beneficial to the plant. It has been suggested that endophytes could make plants more resilient to environmental stresses, this is particularly important with the changing climate.
Later this year, Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies in Washington will put a product on the market known as Bioensure, the active ingredient of which is endophytes.
Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies claim that Bioensure (for corn and rice) can provide benefits such as improved yield, seed germination and reduced water consumption.
In particular, reducing water consumption could prove useful in areas which have recently begun experiencing droughts due to climate change, such as regions of Brazil.
Murphy et al. recently looked at endophytes in barley. They looked at whether the endophytes could make the barley more resistant to pathogens.
Murphy et al. saw a lower level of infection when endophytes were present. This protection was even seen in ungerminated seeds, suggesting the endophytes have a direct effect on the pathogens rather than inducing defence responses in the plant.
Endophytes could prove useful in crop protection, but those found by Murphy et al. have a long way to go before they become a commercial product. More research should include looking at how the endophytes behave under field conditions.
Aside from practical research into developing endophytes into a commercial product, it would be interesting to see how the endophytes interact with the plant. Uncovering these interactions could explain how the presence of endophytes means the plant uses less water or why more seeds germinate.
An important question to answer is whether endophytes have any negative impacts on the plant. Rusty Rodriguez (founder of Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies) dismisses these worries saying that ‘in all the work we’ve done over 15 years we haven’t seen anything suggesting metabolic cost‘. The field tests conducted by Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies are available to the public but their results have not yet been published in a journal.
To conclude, endophytes could provide an alternative route to crop protection but further research needs to be conducted. Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies could benefit from early investment in this area but only time will tell if this will pay off. Should they be successful, endophytes could provide a useful avenue for increasing yields and tackling a changing climate.
Barley: “Hordeum-barley”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hordeum-barley.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hordeum-barley.jpg