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Soil Microorganisms Hold Potential to Boost Crop Yields
by Agriculture Canada
March 23, 2014

A number of soil microorganisms have known benefits to crop plants. Rhizobia, for instance, have been studied thoroughly and are well recognized for their contribution to cropping systems. They help legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas and alfalfa, access nitrogen more efficiently, which leads to improved nitrogen levels in the soil and better crop growth.

Did you know?

More than 90 per cent of the durum wheat and 50 per cent of the spring wheat grown in western Canada trace their roots to research at SPARC.

Now scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre (SPARC) in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, believe another tiny microorganism may hold the key to increasing crop yields and also help reduce the use of fertilizers.

Endophytes, a diverse array of bacteria and fungi that live in the plant without causing disease, are believed to play an important role in stimulating crop growth.

Scientists at Swift Current have discovered three beneficial endophytes, or "plant-growth-promoting microorganisms," with promising results. They've added the three bacteria to chickpea plants and subjected them to various stresses. Normally, when a chickpea plant is stressed due to drought, flooding, disease or excessive heat, it produces ethylene gas which hinders growth. The plants with the added bacteria produced less ethylene when stressed.

Scientists with the centre's wheat breeding program believe the same holds true for wheat. Using genetic markers being developed in the new greenhouse, scientists hope to examine specific wheat cultivars for their special ability to benefit from, and multiply, beneficial microorganisms in the soil.

With only a small portion of endophytes identified by scientists, their full potential remains unknown. Scientists at Swift Current are now using the new greenhouse facilities to maintain a collection of beneficial fungi found in the Canadian Prairies and explore their potential.

By more effectively using the beneficial microorganisms living in prairie soils and adding endophytes to plants, the cropping systems could improve their stress tolerance and increase their efficiency in using nutrient resources from the soil. This strategy could help mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture and resolve problems of greenhouse gas production from residual nitrogen fertilizer and world phosphorus resource depletions.

Did you know?

SPARC at Swift Current, Saskatchewan, recently celebrated the opening of a new greenhouse research facility. The $5.34-million project was one of eight AAFC laboratories that received funding from the Modernizing Federal Laboratories Initiative under Canada's Economic Action Plan in 2009.

The new, modern and energy-efficient greenhouse strengthens the centre's capacity to conduct research in crop development, pest management and food safety and will help keep SPARC researchers on the cutting edge of science. Collaborative research conducted with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada will also help develop new standards for innovative food products and processes.

‘Innovation Express’: Volume 4, No 1, 2013

http://www4.agr.gc.ca/AAFC-AAC/display-afficher.do?id=1358293414810&lang=eng#a1

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