Engineered Microbes Boost Growth of Medicinal Plants and Soil Health

Jim Crocker
29th April, 2024

Engineered Microbes Boost Growth of Medicinal Plants and Soil Health

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Researchers at Northwest A&F University found that groups of beneficial soil bacteria boost the growth of the medicinal plant Schisandra chinensis
  • These bacterial groups, or consortia, improved plant height, biomass, and chlorophyll content more effectively than single strains
  • The consortia also increased soil fertility and beneficial soil microbes, promoting a healthier, more sustainable agriculture
The cultivation of Schisandra chinensis, a plant known for its medicinal properties, has been facing challenges due to the heavy use of chemical fertilizers, which can be detrimental to the environment and the long-term health of the soil. Researchers at Northwest A&F University have taken a step towards a sustainable solution by exploring the use of plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR)[1]. These beneficial bacteria reside in the soil near the roots of plants and can enhance plant growth and health. The study conducted by the team at Northwest A&F University compared the effects of individual PGPR strains and their synthetic consortia—groups of different strains working together—on the growth of S. chinensis. The results were clear: the synthetic consortia were more effective than individual strains in increasing plant height, biomass, and total chlorophyll content, which are indicators of healthy plant growth. These findings are significant as they align with previous research showing that diverse microbial communities can benefit plant growth. For instance, studies have shown that milpas, traditional Mesoamerican farming systems, support a variety of plant species and maintain ancient plant-microorganism interactions that are often lost in modern agriculture[2]. These diverse interactions can contribute to the health and productivity of crops without the need for intensive tilling or chemical inputs. Moreover, the study found that the synthetic consortia not only improved plant growth but also enhanced soil fertility and enzyme activities. This is crucial because soil fertility is a key factor in sustainable agriculture. The consortia increased soil total carbon (TC) and total nitrogen (TN) contents, which are essential for plant nutrition, and boosted soil enzyme activities, such as urease, which is involved in nitrogen cycling. These improvements in soil health mirror the findings in rice cultivation, where distinct microbial communities in different root compartments contribute to nutrient cycling and plant growth[3]. The research also revealed that the synthetic consortia altered the soil microbial community, enriching beneficial microorganisms like Actinobacteria and Verrucomicrobiota, which have been previously identified as important for plant health[2]. These bacteria can help plants absorb nutrients more efficiently and protect them against pathogens. The increase in the relative abundance of Proteobacteria, a dominant bacterial phylum in the soil, further indicates a shift towards a more beneficial microbial community structure. Interestingly, the study at Northwest A&F University also found that these microbial communities have a synergistic effect. This means that the bacteria in the consortia work together in a way that enhances their individual contributions to plant growth. This concept of microbial synergy is supported by research on Arabidopsis, a model plant, which showed that leaf- and root-derived bacteria could form communities resembling natural microbiota and engage in niche specialization[4]. Furthermore, the study provided evidence that the bacteria in the consortia can trigger systemic responses in plants, enhancing their defense mechanisms. This aligns with findings from previous research where Bacillus subtilis, isolated from the leaves of Eucommia ulmoides, was found to activate plant defense pathways and protect maize plants against pathogens[5]. By demonstrating the effectiveness of synthetic microbial consortia in promoting the growth of S. chinensis, the study offers a promising avenue for developing microbial fertilizers. Such fertilizers could reduce the reliance on chemical inputs, improve soil health, and support sustainable agricultural practices. The correlation analysis between soil properties and the microbiome also emphasizes the role of soil microorganisms in regulating soil fertility, which could have broader implications for crop cultivation. This research contributes to a growing body of evidence that suggests a future in agriculture where microbial consortia could play a pivotal role in enhancing crop production sustainably. The use of synthetic microbial fertilizers, grounded in an understanding of the complex interactions within the soil microbiome, may pave the way for more resilient and environmentally friendly farming systems.

AgricultureBiotechPlant Science


Main Study

1) Synthetic consortia of four strains promote Schisandra chinensis growth by regulating soil microbial community and improving soil fertility.

Published 28th April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Enrichment of Verrucomicrobia, Actinobacteria and Burkholderiales drives selection of bacterial community from soil by maize roots in a traditional milpa agroecosystem.

3) Structure, variation, and assembly of the root-associated microbiomes of rice.

4) Functional overlap of the Arabidopsis leaf and root microbiota.

5) An Endophytic Bacterial Strain Isolated from Eucommia ulmoides Inhibits Southern Corn Leaf Blight.

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