Sunday, February 15, 2009

Researchers Identify Endophytic Bacteria That Increase Plant Growth

Through work originally designed to remove contaminants from soil, scientists at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and their Belgium colleagues at Hasselt University have identified a number of endophytic (living within a plant) microbes that can improve poplar tree growth on marginal land. Two strains in particular showed an increase in biomass production of up to 50%.

The findings, published in the 1 February issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, may help scientists design strategies for sustainable biofuel feedstock production that does not use food crops or agricultural land.

In the current study, the scientists isolated endophytic bacteria normally resident in poplar and willow roots, and tested selected strains’ abilities to increase poplar growth in a controlled greenhouse environment. They also sequenced the genes from four selected bacterial species and screened them for the production of plant-growth promoting enzymes, hormones, and other metabolic factors that might help explain how the bacteria improve plant growth.

The scientists identified 78 bacterial endophytes from poplar and willow. Some species had beneficial effects on plant growth, others had no effect, and some resulted in decreased growth. In particular, poplar cuttings inoculated with Enterobacter sp. 638 and Burkholderia cepacia BU72 repeatedly showed the highest increase in biomass production—up to 50%—as compared with non-inoculated control plants.
Interesting. I was unaware that there were bacteria that lived symbiotically within trees and other plants. It seems like this is a promising avenue for genetic engineering, as I would think bacteria genomes are easier to manipulate than plant genomes.

I wonder why they are focusing on this as a way to increase yield of biofuels than edible crops? I am curious if similar bacteria are present in corn and wheat. I don't see why you couldn't use similar techniques on crops to allow them to grow on marginal lands as well.

via Green Car Congress

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