Future bioformulations to boost agriproduction

Plants form symbiotic association with a multitude of microorganisms, both on and under the topsoil. Through underground mutualistic associations with bacteria and fungi, plants receive several benefits such as growth promotion, and reduction of biotic (pathogen attack) and abiotic (drought/salinity) stress. These plant-microbe association studies are at the heart of strategies by scientists and researchers to design bioformulations for enhancing agricultural productivity. Take mycorrhizae studies, for instance. Mycorrhizae is a well-studied plant-fungus symbiotic association wherein the fungal hyphal network helps in increased uptake of water and minerals from deep in the soil where these would otherwise be inaccessible to plants. Cross-kingdom associations formed between plant roots and beneficial soil fungi (mycorrhizae) have been proficient in positively influencing plant growth as these associations are evolutionarily selected and maintained in nature and are hence more powerful than introduced, non-native, combinations of biofertiliser bacterial strains. In fact, mycorrhizae technology developed by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has shown 50% reduction in usage of chemical fertilisers in crops such as wheat and maize. Such microbes do not simply exist in the soil, but tirelessly work to support plant growth and protect their hosts from pathogenic bacteria, fungi and parasitic nematodes.

The intention is to develop advanced mycorrhizal formulations with naturally existing, beneficial bacterial species for consistent performance under different climates and agricultural zones. The Mycorrhiza-associated bacteria are functionally proficient not only on their own but synergistically benefit mycorrhizal performance as well. This technology is currently at the laboratory scale and is being tested in in vitro conditions prior to controlled soil trials. The bioformulation programme aims to ultimately help develop biofertilisers that would curtail use of chemical fertililsers by over 50% and simultaneously improve agri-production.