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Fungus helps rice adapt to stress

The findings suggest that symbiotic technology may be useful in mitigating impacts of climate change (© IRRI)
The findings suggest that symbiotic technology may be useful in mitigating impacts of climate change
© IRRI

Two commercial rice varieties have achieved tolerance to salt, drought and cold temperatures after scientists inoculated the rice with fungi. According to the research, published in PLoS One, the fungal endophytes (fungi which live within a plant without causing it harm) also significantly increased the growth of the plant and development of seedlings in the absence of stress, compared to the control plants. "These findings indicate that rice plants can exhibit enhanced stress tolerance via symbiosis with endophytes, and suggest that symbiotic technology may be useful in mitigating impacts of climate change on other crops and expanding agricultural production onto marginal lands," says Dr Regina Redman, University of Washington research scientist and one of the authors.

All endophytes passed on drought tolerance to the rice plants, delaying wilting 2-3 times longer than the control plants after watering was stopped. Scientists state that this could be because endophytes decreased plant water consumption by 20-30 per cent. Tolerance to salt and temperature stress, however, were both 'habit-adapted' traits: a fungus from coastal plants made rice tolerant to salt but not temperature, while fungus that thrives in geothermal soil provided temperature but not salt tolerance.

Increasingly frequent climatic disasters, like earthquakes and tsunamis, have resulted in inundation of crops with salt water. "These events, along with increasing world-population, have contributed to shortages and increased prices of rice, exacerbating hunger and famine issues globally," Redman states. "The levels of salt used in these studies are similar to those occurring in agricultural lands after tsunamis or tidal surges. Therefore, we anticipate that using endophytes may allow growers to mitigate the impacts of salt inundation."

"It is tempting to speculate that since symbiotic plants use less water, produce greater biomass, and have higher yields; the endophytes may allow rice plants to achieve greater metabolic efficiency," Redman concludes.

Date published: August 2011

 

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