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Bacteria Can Help Plants Cope With Climate Change

Bacteria in plants
A fluorescent micrograph capturing the presence of bacteria (shown as green) on the surface of an emerging plant root.

A range of recent studies into the benefits of microbes in soil has uncovered their potential to help plants cope with water and heat stress.

As any hobby permaculture student knows the key to a good crop with high yield is not herbicides and pesticides but healthy soil.

Research is supporting this premise and is urging commercial farmers to consider the potential of the communities of beneficial bacteria, billions strong, and adapted through millennia to aid plants in their battle for survival.

Esther Ngumbi, Research Fellow at Auburn University states “Cotton, corn and tomato plants grown in soil that is infused with certain bacteria have root sizes that are triple the size of plants grown in untreated soil after water has been withheld for just five days. The treated plants stand tall and robust; the untreated wilt and wither.”

Studies like these are particularly important for farmers who need to start preparing for climate change. Recently the United Nations warned that the world could suffer a 40 percent shortfall in water by 2030 unless countries dramatically cut consumption. These beneficial bacteria could be the key player in continuing to grow food in our changing world. Couple these with the studies which sing the praises of beneficial fungi and we could continue to grow food despite almost any change in the current climate.

Not only does soil with a good balance of microbes help with water consumption, different types of bacteria can tackle a wide range of problems, potentially reducing or even removing the need for pesticide use altogether.

“Plants normally exude a carbon-rich liquid that feeds the microbes. They also exude various chemicals in response to a range of stressors, including insect attacks and water stress. Soil bacteria sense these messages, and secrete chemicals of their own that can activate complex plant defenses.” Ngumbi writes. “Most recently, studies point to a direct role for soil bacteria in shielding crops from drought; improving their growth and ability to absorb nutrients; and enhancing their tolerance of flooding, high temperatures, low temperatures and many other challenges of a changing global climate.”

Image: Jeffery L Dangl (c)

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