Plants become more tolerant when living in symbiosis with fungi

October 4, 2017, University of Gothenburg
Medicago plants to study how mycorrhizal symbiosis affects their growth. Credit: Cornelia Spetea Wiklund, University of Gothenburg

By developing a symbiotic relationship with fungi, plants not only become more tolerant to diseases but can also help contribute to more sustainable agricultural practices. This is the conclusion of a new study from the University of Gothenburg.

Most crops can form with to gain key nutrients. The fungi in turn gain carbohydrates generated through the plant's photosynthesis.

This type of symbiosis is called arbuscular mycorrhizas and is of key importance to sustainable agriculture since it helps crops utilise better the phosphate in fertilisers.

'This symbiosis is very important since the leakage of phosphate from farm fields contributes to harmful eutrophication of rivers, lakes and seas,' says Cornelia Spetea Wiklund, professor at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg.

The Symbiosis Protects against Drought and Diseases

The fungal symbiosis also makes the plants more tolerant to certain diseases and environmental factors such as drought. In order to learn how to better utilise the symbiosis in agriculture, the researchers have explored what causes the increased hardiness of plants. One mechanism involved seems to be that the fungi increase the plant's levels of several hormones in both its roots and shoots.

'Studies of the legume Medicago truncatula show that the synthesis and signalling of two important plant hormones increase in that form this symbiosis,' says Lisa Adolfsson, researcher at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg.

One of the hormones (ABA) makes the plant more drought tolerant, since it reduces the evaporation of water through the stomata of the leaves. The other hormone (jasmonate) helps increase the production of secondary substances that protect the plant against stress and diseases.

The Symbiosis Has Hormonal Effects in Plants

By measuring the levels of various substances in the shoots of the legume, which lives in symbiosis with fungi, and combining the results with large-scale genetic studies, the researchers have found that the levels of secondary substances (flavonoids and terpenoids) rise in the shoots as a result of the increased hormonal levels.

'This is an interesting finding that may explain the increased tolerance to various stressors and diseases,' says Spetea Wiklund.

So, the results show that symbiotic fungi influence the hormonal levels of crops.

'The legume Medicago truncatula is used as a model for other legumes. Consequently, the findings are applicable on commercially important crops such as soybeans,' says Adolfsson.

Explore further: Feeding fat to fungi: Evidence for lipid transfer in arbuscular mycorrhiza

More information: Lisa Adolfsson et al, Enhanced Secondary- and Hormone Metabolism in Leaves of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Medicago truncatula, Plant Physiology (2017). DOI: 10.1104/pp.16.01509

Related Stories

Fungi may help drought-stressed wheat

December 17, 2015

Scientists at Aarhus University have discovered that fungi associated with plant roots may improve growth and yield of drought-stressed wheat.

How plants make friends with fungi

October 13, 2016

Many fungi damage or even kill plants. But there are also plant-friendly fungi: Most land plants live in close community with arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi (AM fungi) that stimulate their growth. Researchers of the "Molecular ...

DELLAs bolster symbiosis in Green Revolution crops

January 8, 2014

(Phys.org) —Boyce Thompson Institute and Cornell researchers have identified a plant protein called DELLA that may lead to reducing phosphorus-fertilizer applications on farms and better plant growth in poor soil.

Why communication is vital—even among plants and funghi

May 26, 2017

Plant scientists at the University of Cambridge have found a plant protein indispensable for communication early in the formation of symbiosis - the mutually beneficial relationship between plants and fungi. Symbiosis significantly ...

Recommended for you

Semimetals are high conductors

March 18, 2019

Researchers in China and at UC Davis have measured high conductivity in very thin layers of niobium arsenide, a type of material called a Weyl semimetal. The material has about three times the conductivity of copper at room ...

Researchers discover new material to help power electronics

March 18, 2019

Electronics rule our world, but electrons rule our electronics. A research team at The Ohio State University has discovered a way to simplify how electronic devices use those electrons—using a material that can serve dual ...

0 comments

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.