Mycorrhizal research at East Malling

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are found globally in terrestrial ecosystems where they are major components of the soil microbial biomass. They form a mutualistic symbiosis with more than 80% of vascular plant families. They are one of the few fungal groups to have a fossil record and are thought to have facilitated the colonisation of land by ancient plants.

AMF form arbuscules within the roots of plants that allow the transfer of nutrients between the fungus and plant roots.  Mycorrhizal associations are multi-functional, assisting the plants in nutrient acquisition, water uptake, mediating carbon transfer and protecting roots from pathogens. Most agricultural crops benefit from mycorrhizal associations, however due to heavy fertilisation, tillage and application of pesticides such beneficial microorganisms are not available or not active in all agro-ecosystems

AMF are important in the maintenance of soil fertility. Infertile soils are an increasing concern to farmers and plant producers globally.  Low nutrient availability, reduced biological diversity and increased pathogen populations are generally the cause, and soil management commonly results in increased inputs of fertilisers and pesticides (which can aggravate the problem). The maintenance of a developed and diverse population of AMF, and other soil micro-organisms, is important in achieving sustainable agriculture.

Global food security and sustainable agriculture is increasingly on agenda for global governments and policy makers. The increasing demands on land use, fertiliser and water availability all lead to an increasing concern about how global demand is going to be met in the future. Mycorrhizal fungi could provide an important contribution to a sustainable agriculture and horticulture. Establishment of an AMF community can significantly increase crop productivity, allow greater nutrient absorbtion from poor soils and combat soil erosion as well as aiding land remediation

Due to the unique symbiosis between AMF and plants introduction of these fungi can lead to reduction in the application of chemical fertiliser, pesticide, fungicide and water treatments by the grower.

EMR currently have research projects that focus on the role of Mycorrhizal fungi in the uptake of water and nutrients primary in strawberry production. Water deficit irrigation is being examined to investigate the role of different AMF treatment regimes on plant health and development. This model is being used to establish the effect that different growth conditions have on the composition of AMF species within one root system using a real-time PCR approach.

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