Fungi used to make rice grow five times faster

Researchers in Switzerland have successfully inoculated rice with selectively bred mychorrhizal fungi which helps the plant grow faster in the acidic soils of tropical regions. Such fungi are known to help plants by extracting nutrients – in this case phosphate – from the surrounding soil, receiving sugars in return.

To date studies have only been conducted in temperate climates, but greenhouses were used to recreate conditions in the tropics where phosphate fertiliser gets bound to the soil. Ian Sanders, a biologist at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, said that harnessing this method could become increasingly important if predicted shortages in global soil phosphate ring true.

Sanders is also collaborating with researchers from the National University of Colombia on field trials of economically important crops such as potato and cassava. Early results are promising; the same amount of potato can be grown with less than a third of the phosphate fertiliser normally applied.

Whether or not the technique used for rice will be viable in the field remains under question. Roland Buresh, a principal scientist at the International Rice Research Institute specialising in nutrient management, highlighted that the fungi require oxygen for growth, hence might not perform so well in submerged soils. The technique, he continued, is not expected to allow more rice to be grown in a year.

Original article: Scientists harness ‘good’ fungi to boost staple crops by Mićo Tatalović