Nav: Home

Excessive phosphate fertilizer use can reduce microbial functions critical to crop health

March 18, 2019

St. Paul, MN (March 2019)--Phosphorus is crucial for plant growth--with it, plants can acquire, transfer, and store the energy that helps them flourish in full health. Without it, plants flounder: they're stunted, discolored, and produce low yields. For this reason, farmers and gardeners often apply phosphate fertilizers (P-fertilizer) to increase the amount of phosphorous in their soil. However, a recent study finds that excessive P-fertilizer may actually hurt the plants it is trying to help by altering the composition and function of the microbes in the soil.

In a study published in the fully open access Phytobiomes Journal, a team of scientists led by Drs Terrence Bell and Jenny Kao-Kniffin at Penn State University set out to determine if nutrient history changed the function of soil microorganisms--that is, could multiple generations of nutrient application and microbial transfer separate the impacts of nutrients and soil microorganisms on crop health. The answer seems to be yes, and that soil treated with high amounts of phosphate can result in poorer plant performance, but even more intriguing, it appears that the soil microorganisms from this conditioned soil can negatively impact plant yield.

To arrive at this conclusion, the team grew four generations of alfalfa (Medicago sativa) in soil with different concentrations of P-fertilizer (low to high), and after each generation, a small amount of soil, including soil-borne microorganisms, from pots containing the top-growing plants was transferred to the next generation. They then applied the microorganisms selected under each nutrient condition to all other nutrient conditions to determine whether nutrient history changed the function of soil microorganisms, even when a particular nutrient amendment (e.g. high inorganic P-fertilizer) was no longer applied.

The team found that alfalfa plants grown in soil treated with high levels of inorganic P-fertilizer, or with the microbes from this treatment but in low P-fertilizer, performed worse than alfalfa plants grown in soil treated with lower or no levels of P-fertilizer. Using high-throughput DNA sequencing, they saw that the composition of microorganisms grown under high inorganic P was distinct from other treatments.

These findings require additional study, but for now they suggest that excessive P-fertilizer could have lasting negative effects on crop productivity by reducing the microorganisms (or how they function) that are critical to crop health.
-end-
More details about this study can be found in "Medicago sativa has reduced biomass and nodulation when grown with soil microbiomes conditioned to high phosphorous inputs," published March 6, 2019 in Phytobiomes Journal Volume 2, Number 4.

American Phytopathological Society

Related Microorganisms Articles:

Soil scientist researches nature versus nurture in microorganisms
Ember Morrissey, assistant professor of environmental microbiology at West Virginia University, uncovered that nature significantly affects how the tiny organisms under our feet respond to their current surroundings.
Microorganisms reduce methane release from the ocean
Bacteria in the Pacific Ocean remove large amounts of the greenhouse gas methane.
Microorganisms build the best fuel efficient hydrogen cells
With billions of years of practice, nature has created the most energy efficient machines.
How microorganisms protect themselves against free radicals
There are numerous different scenarios in which microorganisms are exposed to highly reactive molecules known as free radicals.
Scientists' warning to humanity: Microbiology and climate change
When it comes to climate change, ignoring the role of microorganisms could have dire consequences, according to a new statement issued by an international team of microbiologists.
Climate change could affect symbiotic relationships between microorganisms and trees
An international research consortium mapped the global distribution of tree-root symbioses with fungi and bacteria that are vital to forest ecosystems.
Microorganisms on microplastics
A recent study shows that that the potentially toxin-producing plankton species Pfiesteria piscicida prefers to colonize plastic particles, where they are found in 50 times higher densities than in the surrounding water of the Baltic Sea and densities about two to three times higher than on comparable wood particles floating in the water.
Harnessing microorganisms for smart microsystems
A research team at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Toyohashi University of Technology has developed a method to construct a biohybrid system that incorporates Vorticella microorganisms.
Microorganisms are the main emitters of carbon in Amazonian waters
A study performed with microorganisms inhabiting floodplains, which comprises 20 percent of the whole Amazon, showed that the microbial food chain produces 10 times more CO2 than the classical food chain, mostly by decomposing organic matter.
Plant seed research provides basis for sustainable alternatives to chemical fertilizers
Scientists assessed the seed microbiomes of two successive plant generations for the first time and discovered that seeds are an important vector for transmission of beneficial endophytes across generations.
More Microorganisms News and Microorganisms Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Accessing Better Health
Essential health care is a right, not a privilege ... or is it? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can give everyone access to a healthier way of life, despite who you are or where you live. Guests include physician Raj Panjabi, former NYC health commissioner Mary Bassett, researcher Michael Hendryx, and neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab