Thursday, July 23, 2015

Plants benefit from probiotics as well

Just as humans can benefit from the good bacteria of probiotics, plants can benefit from certain microbes. And that benefit is also good for the environment.

In plants, beneficial bacteria and fungi are endophytes. Scientists have known for decades that plants like legumes (peas, beans, and lentils) have beneficial bacteria in nodules attached to their roots. These bacteria "fix" vital nitrogen, turning it into a form the plant can easily use. However, researchers in Crop Science have recently found some nitrogen-fixing bacteria actually live inside plant tissue--in the leaves, stems, and roots -- with impressive results.

Plants have a limited ability to genetically adapt to rapid environmental changes (heat, drought, toxins, or limited nutrients) and so they may use microbes that do have this capacity to rapidly evolve due to their vastly shorter life cycles. By having the right microbes for the conditions, the plants are healthier. That is how it is similar to humans taking probiotics to improve their health.

The next steps in this work have practical applications, including seed coating or spraying.