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article imageNew report suggests microbes are key to feeding the world

By Tim Sandle     Aug 29, 2013 in Environment
A new report suggests that a greater focus on the role of microbiology in agriculture combined with new technologies could help mitigate potential food shortages associated with world population increases.
The report argues that a great deal of emphasis recently has been upon plants and how plants can be grown to improve agricultural yield. While this is important, a study from the American Academy of Microbiology suggests that optimizing the microbial communities that live in, on and around plants, can substantially reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. In doing so, plant productivity can be improved and the use of chemicals can be reduced.
The important roles played by microorganisms include:
Fungi associated with plant roots can increase the efficiency of phosphate uptake in crops such as potatoes and rice.
Plant-associated bacteria that produce a particular chemical can protect host plants against a variety of stresses.
Plants carrying sugar-producing bacteria prove resistant to drought and produce more foliage and deeper roots.
Some viruses when paired with a fungus enable some plants to grow in high-temperature soils.
Some fungi produce mixtures of volatile chemicals with potent antimicrobial activity.
The reason for the report is partly based on the fact that in order to feed the estimated global population of nine billion in the year 2050, agricultural yields will have to increase by 70-100 percen.
The report is called “How Microbes can Help Feed the World” and it poses a series of questions regarding how plant-microbe interactions could be employed to boost agricultural productivity in an environmentally and economically responsible way. One paragraph from the report summarizes the key message:
“Microbes support plant health by increasing the availability of nutrients, enhancing
plant root growth, neutralizing toxic compounds in the soil, making plants more resistant
to disease, heat, flooding, and drought, and deterring pathogens and predators.
Microbes and plants are intimate partners in virtually every life process.”
More about World hunger, Poverty, Microorganisms, Bacteria, Plants
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