CAMDEN -- A research project underway at Rutgers University's Camden campus could help revolutionize agriculture through the use of fungi as "biofertilizers" that reduce the farming industry's reliance on phosphate and nitrogen fertilizers that pollute water supplies.
Thanks to a newly awarded three-year grant of more than $419,000 from the National Science Foundation, Heike Bcking, an assistant professor of biology at Rutgers-Camden, is leading a research team exploring the exchange of nutrients in the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis, a close interaction between plant roots and soil fungi that is essential for the nutrient uptake of approximately 80 percent of all known plant species.
Rutgers-Camden undergraduate and graduate students are joining Bcking in this innovative research project.
Traditional agriculture relies on the use of fertilizers to provide the soil with the nutrients needed to grow plants. Such use is not without risks, Bcking explains. Farmers frequently apply more fertilizer nutrients than are used by the plants, leading to excess nitrogen and phosphate causing ecological problems by leaching into the groundwater and overfertilizing aquatic ecosystems. This can result in algal blooms, high fish mortality rates, and a variety of other problems while severely reducing the water quality. "We must find ways to improve agricultural assistance," she says.
Since mycorrhizal fungi are more efficient in the uptake of specific nutrients, and more resistant against soil-borne pathogens, interest in using these fungi as "biofertilizers" or "bioprotectors" is increasing. By promoting the proliferation of mycorrhizal fungi through diminished fertilizer input, farmers would make more efficient use of the nitrogen stores in the soils.
Bcking's research seeks to develop a more thorough understanding of the nutrient exchange processes between these fungi and agricultural environments, which she terms "necessary" for successful a
Contact: Mike Sepanic
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey