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2-Plants: Fungus is 'new tool for sustainable agriculture'

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TITLE:  Fungus is 'new tool for sustainable agriculture'
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK, by Wagdy Sawahel
DATE:   23 Sep 2005

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Fungus is 'new tool for sustainable agriculture'

Infecting crops with a fungus could be an alternative to genetically
modifying them to boost yields, say scientists.

In research published this week (20 September) in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, they showed that barley infected with a
fungus called Piriformospora indica had three key advantages over
uninfected plants.

As well as being able to grow in salty conditions, the infected barley
yielded up to 11 per cent more grain, mainly because each plant had more
seed-heads than uninfected barley.

The plants were also better at resisting infection by two disease-causing
fungi (Fusarium culmorum and Cochliobolus sativus) that cause
considerable economic losses worldwide.

Frank Waller of the University of Giessen in Germany, who led the
laboratory-based study, told SciDev.Net that its findings challenge the
notion that inducing crop resistance to disease or conditions such as
salinity carries the cost of lower yields.

Explaining that barley is used as a model crop for research on other
cereals such as rice and wheat, he said the research was important
because soil salinity and plant diseases are major global causes of crop loss.

Piriformospora indica, which was recently discovered in India, naturally
infects the roots of plants growing in the same environment.

Waller said the fungus could be used to improve the stress and pathogen
resistance of other plants that are difficult to genetically modify.

It can easily be grown on a large scale and could become a new tool for
sustainable agriculture, he said.

Reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102, 13386 (2005)

Published online before print September 8, 2005, 10.1073/pnas.0504423102
PNAS | September 20, 2005 | vol. 102 | no. 38 | 13386-13391

The endophytic fungus Piriformospora indica reprograms barley to salt-
stress tolerance, disease resistance, and higher yield

Frank Waller * , Beate Achatz * , , Helmut Baltruschat * , József Fodor ,
Katja Becker ¶, Marina Fischer ¶, Tobias Heier *, Ralph Hückelhoven *,
Christina Neumann *, Diter von Wettstein ||, Philipp Franken and Karl-
Heinz Kogel *, **

*Institute of Phytopathology and Applied Zoology, University of Giessen,
D-35392 Giessen, Germany;
Institute for Vegetables and Ornamental Crops, D-14979 Grossbeeren, Germany;
Plant Protection Institute, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, H-1525
Budapest, Hungary;
¶Institute of Nutritional Biochemistry, University of Giessen, D-35392
Giessen, Germany; and
||Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Washington State University,
Pullman, WA 99164-6420

Contributed by Diter von Wettstein, May 31, 2005

Disease resistance strategies are powerful approaches to sustainable
agriculture because they reduce chemical input into the environment.
Recently, Piriformospora indica, a plant-root-colonizing basidiomycete
fungus, has been discovered in the Indian Thar desert and was shown to
provide strong growth-promoting activity during its symbiosis with a
broad spectrum of plants [Verma, S. et al. (1998) Mycologia 90, 896-903].
Here, we report on the potential of P. indica to induce resistance to
fungal diseases and tolerance to salt stress in the monocotyledonous
plant barley. The beneficial effect on the defense status is detected in
distal leaves, demonstrating a systemic induction of resistance by a
root-endophytic fungus. The systemically altered "defense readiness" is
associated with an elevated antioxidative capacity due to an activation
of the glutathione-ascorbate cycle and results in an overall increase in
grain yield. Because P. indica can be easily propagated in the absence of
a host plant, we conclude that the fungus could be exploited to increase
disease resistance and yield in crop plants.

root endophyte | powdery mildew | symbiosis | ascorbate | glutathione
Abbreviations: GR, glutathione reductase; GSH, reduced glutathione.
F.W., B.A., and H.B. contributed equally to this work.
** To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: karl-


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