Fungi reduce need for fertilizer in agriculture

May 23, 2011

The next agricultural revolution may be sparked by fungi, helping to greatly increase food-production for the growing needs of the planet without the need for massive amounts of fertilizers according to research presented today at the 111th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans.

"The United Nations conservatively estimates that by the year 2050 the global human population is expected to reach over 9 billion. Feeding such a population represents an unprecedented challenge since this goes greatly beyond current global food production capacity," says Ian Sanders of the University of Lusanne, Switzerland, speaking in a session entitled "How Can Help Feed the World."

Sanders studies , a type of fungus that live in with . When plants make symbioses with these fungi they tend to grow larger because the fungi acquire the essential nutrient phosphate for the plant. Phosphate is a key component of the that fueled the in middle of the 20th century that made it possible then for agriculture to keep up with the growing global population.

"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.

Phosphate reserves are being rapidly depleted. Increasing demand for the nutrient is driving up prices and some countries are now stockpiling phosphate to feed their populations in the future, according to Sanders.

While mycorrhizal fungi typically only grow on the roots of plants, recent biotechnological breakthroughs now allow scientists to produce massive quantities of the fungus that can be suspended in high concentrations in a gel for easy transportation.

Sanders and his colleagues are currently testing the effectiveness of this gel on crops in the country of Colombia where they have discovered that with the gel they can produce the same yield of potato crop with less than half the amount of phosphate fertilizers.

"While our applied research is focused on Colombia it could be applied in many other tropical regions of the world," says Sanders.

Explore further: World fertilizer prices drop dramatically after soaring to all-time highs

Related Stories

Using waste to recover waste uranium

September 7, 2009

Using bacteria and inositol phosphate, a chemical analogue of a cheap waste material from plants, researchers at Birmingham University have recovered uranium from the polluted waters from uranium mines. The same technology ...

Hairy secret of foraging plants discovered

February 18, 2010

( -- The genes that control the hairy 'mining machine' that makes some plants better at finding nutrients in poor soils than others have been discovered by scientists from Oxford University and the John Innes ...

With fungi on their side, rice plants grow to be big

June 10, 2010

By tinkering with a type of fungus that lives in association with plant roots, researchers have found a way to increase the growth of rice by an impressive margin. The so-called mycorrhizal fungi are found in association ...

Plant nutrients from wastewater

September 7, 2010

Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium -- there are valuable nutrients contained in wastewater. Unfortunately, these essential nutrients are lost in conventional wastewater treatment plants. This is the reason why researchers ...

Recommended for you

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 27, 2011
Hopefully this would also be applied to local lawn and landscaping reducing runoff and fish kills.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.