Functional Biofilms to Benefit Agriculture
Among different types of mycorrhizae, arbuscular mycorrhizae are ubiquitous plant root-fungus associations found in the soil near 80% of terrestrial plants, including agricultural and horticultural species. Mycorrhizal interactions promote plant growth and improve stress tolerance and crop yield apart from improving soil properties through bioremediation. Interestingly, these fungi have recently been confirmed to be associated with several bacterial species that exist on the surface of mycorrhizal structures such as spores or reside inside them, sometimes both. These associated species of bacteria are increasingly seen to augment functionalities such as growth promotion or enhanced pathogen tolerance. The bacteria achieve this by aiding further utilisation of the resources hidden under layers of soil or by providing additional biotic and abiotic stress resistance and strengthening the symbiotic association. Therefore, in nature this is likely a three-way plant-fungi-bacteria symbiotic association that has existed since ages in our ecosystem and has played an important role in maintaining crops by enhancing nutrition and yield.
These three-way associations have been recently studied for various functional traits that could shed light on the real reason for their mutually beneficial co-existence over generations in their ecosystems. We have successfully isolated a wide variety of bacteria associated with mycorrhizae and have promising leads from their functional genomics study to understand how these bacterial species co-exist with their plant hosts and use the soil ecosystems to enhance plant growth.
Presently, multiple approaches involving practical experimentation and bioinformatics analysis are being applied to understand the nature of this phenomena. The intention is to develop advanced bioformulations with beneficial bacterial species for consistent performance of mycorrhiza under different climates and agricultural zones. This technology is being tested in controlled soil trials.