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Researchers optimise sugar beet for bio-fertilisers

Certain microorganisms are used to stimulate cultivated plants’ growth and disease resistance. Sometimes such bio-fertilisers works well, sometimes not. Now, researchers at Lund University, Sweden, are to study the exact requirements for improving the growth of sugar beet. If they succeed, biological fertilisers of crops will provide more benefits and bigger harvests.
Sugar beet.
Sugar beet. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In a newly completed study, the researchers have established that there are considerable differences in the effectiveness of a fungal bio-fertiliser on crops such as sugar beet. The percentage variations in growth effect are in double digits. According to the researchers, the reason for this lies in the genetic variations between genetically different lines of sugar beet.

“We will examine what’s in the sugar beet plants that determines the degree of success achieved with biological fertilisers. We will find out which genes control this and, by extension, enhanced growth”, says Allan Rasmusson, biologist at Lund University.

He leads a consortium that has recently been granted SEK 2 million for the project by FORMAS (The Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning). Together with the newly recruited postdoc, Bradley Dotson, Allan Rasmusson will devote a large part of the next two years to the project.

If they achieve their aim, it will identify the existing sugar beet lines that should be selected for improved crop yields around the world. Opportunities will also open up to genetically adapt sugar beet to gain greater benefits from bio-fertilisers and thus increase and accelerate growth.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO), global food production must increase by more than 50 per cent in the next 30 years.

“In order to ensure the food supply, we must develop new concepts and there is considerable international interest in bio-fertilisers”, says Allan Rasmusson.

In studies on maize and tomatoes, researchers have previously established similarly large variations in different plant lines’ ability to be improved by application of microorganisms. The newly completed study is the first to provide a corresponding conclusion for sugar beet. Thus far, they know very little about why this happens and which characteristics plants must have in order to be stimulated.

The project, which is now continuing in order to find the recipe for success for biological fertilising of sugar beet, is a collaboration between the Department of Biology at Lund University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Alnarp and the plant breeding company, Maribo Hilleshög Research AB.

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