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Bacteria work better together to improve crops

Some bacteria can boost plant health and provide protection from pathogens. These microorganisms, known as plant-growth-promoting bacteria (PGPB), can be used to improve agricultural yields.

In a new study from the American Phytopathological Society, scientists have discovered that the benefits of PGPB can be increased when they are grouped together with other species of bacteria. 

Many PGPB form communities of cells called biofilms that help them stick to plant roots. The researchers set out to find other plant-associated bacteria that could help PGPB better adhere to plant roots. The goal was to investigate whether a larger number of PGPB cells attached to the roots could increase their beneficial effects.

The team identified multiple strains of bacteria that increased the adherence of PGPB to plant roots over time. The findings indicate that physical or chemical interactions between these different bacterial species result in better long-term maintenance of PGPB on the plant roots.

“Our results highlight how bacteria can use each other for their own benefit. These findings could be used to create groups of bacteria that are able to work together to better protect crop plants and improve their growth,” said study co-author Elizabeth Shank.

“The results of this research might also be used to better understand and design microbial treatments that could improve crop yields in agricultural settings.”

For the investigation, the researchers screened bacteria that were obtained from the roots of wild-grown plants. They also looked at how other microbes may alter the behavior of each PGPB strain. The study was focused on a PGPB that is currently used in agricultural treatments.

“One important impact of our work may be further encouraging agricultural biotechnology companies to consider using groups of multiple bacteria (rather than a single isolate) in their search for better and longer-lasting biological treatments to improve crop yield and help increase food production,” said Shank.

The study is published in the journal Phytobiomes Journal

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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