Fungi may help protect plants from disease

November 22, 2005

Scientists say they've determined microscopic fungi living inside trees might help protect the trees from disease and predators. The fungi, called endophytes, are found throughout various types of plants, with different endophyte species co-existing in a single plant.

"We really don't understand exactly what (endophytes) do," fungi researcher Rebecca Ganley told National Geographic News. "But we are slowly coming to understand how they might be involved in resistance, tolerance, and other ecological processes that go on in the plant."

Ganley conducted graduate research at the University of Idaho that focused on harnessing the power of the tiny fungi to keep trees healthy. Her research suggested trees with diverse communities of endophytes are more resistant to diseases.

James White, a Rutgers University plant pathologist, told National Geographic News researchers have learned to use endophytes in certain grasses to make the plants resistant to disease, drought, and insects.

Such endophyte research is "big business," he said, especially for turf grasses that are used for lawns.

"The benefits are tremendous," he said. "It means no or little herbicide has to be applied, less water to be put on the plants, and few insecticides."

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

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