Seed World

Scientists See Faster Growth in Plants Colonized by Bacteria

An international team of researchers, including three from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, has tracked nitrogen as soil bacteria pull it from the air and release it as plant-friendly ammonium. This process — called biological nitrogen fixation, or BNF — was found to substantially promote growth in certain grass crops, offering new strategies for eco-friendly farming.
“Our results show that healthy growth can be achieved by combining certain soil bacteria with grasses, even when plants are grown in extremely nitrogen-deprived soil,” says study co-author Richard Ferrieri, director of Brookhaven Lab’s Radiochemistry and Biological Imaging Program. “We plan to apply this method to other crop systems, including bioenergy grasses like sorghum, switchgrass, and miscanthus, and even to food crops like corn and wheat.”
The scientists measured the effects of two BNF soil bacteria —Azospirillum brasilense and Herbaspirillum seropedicae — on growth of the grass Setaria viridis. The study shows the first direct evidence of BNF by tracking the presence of a nitrogen radiotracer as it was absorbed first by the bacteria and then moved through the plant. The results, published in the The Plant Journal, reveal substantial increases in height, weight, and root length.
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