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News

Phosphates through fungi could reduce fertiliser use

Society For General Microbiology : 05 May, 2005  (New Product)
Scientists are looking to a little known, but very widespread, phenomenon to provide a natural source of fertilisers for plants and crops, according to an article in the May 2005 issue of Microbiology Today, the quarterly magazine of the Society for General Microbiology. 'Remarkably, most plants are not just plants; they are symbioses with fungi,' explains Professor Alastair Fitter, from the University of York. Professor Fitter is studying this marvellous alliance of plant roots and fungi, called a mycorrhiza, to find out how they work together to survive.
Scientists are looking to a little known, but very widespread, phenomenon to provide a natural source of fertilisers for plants and crops, according to an article in the May 2005 issue of Microbiology Today, the quarterly magazine of the Society for General Microbiology.

'Remarkably, most plants are not just plants; they are symbioses with fungi,' explains Professor Alastair Fitter, from the University of York. Professor Fitter is studying this marvellous alliance of plant roots and fungi, called a mycorrhiza, to find out how they work together to survive.

'In this 400 million year-old partnership, the plants use the fungi to help them get insoluble nutrients, like phosphate, from the soil and, in return, the fungus gets all its energy requirements from the plant,' says Professor Fitter. 'The partnership is mutually beneficial.'

Farmers and gardeners often use phosphate fertilisers to improve the quality of their soil and help crops and plants to grow. But phosphate fertilisers are not mined sustainably and stocks are falling.

One goal of this research is to discover exactly how the plant and fungi exchange nutrients. 'If we understood better how to make the symbiosis work effectively, there is potential for plants to use the stores of phosphate that are locked up in soil, rather than relying on our dwindling stocks of phosphate fertiliser,' explains Professor Fitter.

Mycorrhizas are probably the most common symbioses on earth, yet no one knows how many fungi are involved or how they function, even though we do know that they can determine what plants grow in an ecosystem. 'Mycorrhizal fungi are among the least well understood of common creatures, yet they are hugely important in all ecosystems,' says Professor Fitter.

Britain is a nation of gardeners, but do they know all that is going on invisibly in their back yards? This issue of Microbiology Today focuses on microbes in the garden. Pick up a free copy of the magazine at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2005 from the Society's stand in the Floral Marquee.
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