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Crop Biotech Update

Fungi to Lessen the Use of Fertilizer in Agriculture

May 27, 2011

Fungi may hold the key towards less use of fertilizer for agriculture, according to a study presented by Ian Sanders of the University of Lusanne during the 111th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans. Sanders' study is about a type of fungus called mycorrhiza which has a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, that leads to production of larger plants. Mycorrhiza acquires phosphate, an essential nutrient for the plant, and also a key ingredient of fertilizers.

"In most tropical soils, plants have enormous difficulty in obtaining phosphate and so farmers have to spend a huge amount of money on phosphate fertilizer. Farmers have to add much more fertilizer than in temperate regions and a very large amount of the cost to produce food is the cost of phosphate," says Sanders.

With the use of biotechnology, it is now possible to produce the fungi in large quantities that can be suspended in high concentrations in a gel to ease transport. Sanders and his team discovered that with the use of this gel, potato can produce the same yield with less than half the amount of phosphate fertilizers. They are also testing the gel in other crops in Colombia.

For more information, contact Jim Sliwa of American Society for Microbiology at jsliwa@asmusa.org.