September 13, 2019
Fertilizer is often added to soil to ensure crops grow, however excess phosphorus from this fertilizer often gets washed into nearby waterways causing serious environmental problems. This phosphorous rich runoff can cause algal blooms, fish to die, and reductions in oxygen levels in water.
Scientists from Boyce Thompson Institute may have a solution to over fertilizing crops, and they found it in the genome of plants. They were able to discover two genes that help plant roots control fungal colonization. Plants have a symbiotic relationship with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi; plants trade fatty acids for nitrogen and phosphate. The fungus also helps plants recover from drought and other stressful events, but letting the fungus go unchecked would be costly to the plant, so it remains in control of this relationship.
The genes responsible for this control are the CLE53 gene, which controls the rate at which the fungus colonizes the roots, and the CLE33 gene, which reduces colonization when there is sufficient phosphate available to the plant. Tweaking these genes may allow farmers to grow plants that have increased phosphate uptake, which would enable them to use less fertilizer, in turn reducing the amount of phosphate runoff into waterways.
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