Plant perfumes woo beneficial bugs

Scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have discovered that maize crops emit chemical signals which attract growth-promoting microbes to live amongst their roots. This is the first chemical signal that has been shown to attract beneficial bacteria to the maize root environment.

The study was led by Dr Andy Neal of Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire and Dr Jurriaan Ton of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences. By deepening our understanding of how cereals interact with microorganisms in the soil their research aims to contribute to ongoing efforts to increase cereal yields sustainably to feed a growing world population.

This research could be particularly useful in the fight against soil-borne pests and diseases. By breeding plants that are better at recruiting disease suppressing and growth promoting bacteria scientists hope to reduce agricultural reliance on fertilisers and pesticides.

The research is published today (24 April 2012) in the open-access journal PLoS One.

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Less fertilizer, higher yields

Plant breeding and genetic engineering for improved nitrogen efficiency

Plants take up nitrogen, a key component of many biological molecules, from the soil. For efficient crop cultivation, nitrogen has to be added to the soil at regular intervals. The large-scale use of artificial nitrogen fertilizers since the middle of the 20th century has led to considerable yield increases for farmers, but has also damaged the environment. Plant researchers are working on ways of improving the take-up and utilisation of nitrogen by crop plants. The most ambitious aim is to develop staple crops that can use nitrogen from the atmosphere.

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