Funghi could reduce fertilizer use for rice

Lausanne, Switzerland (GenevaLunch.com) – Scientists at the University of Lausanne have discovered that the third generation, or “grandchildren” of funghi they took from a field near Zurich could play a role in reducing the need for fertilizer for rice, allowing it to grow five times faster than rice produced today, with a little help from funghi which, in their turn, have been helped by labs. The researchers caution that the results of their work are far from being ready to apply to rice paddies, but the research unearthed significant information about rice (explanation, Science Now):

More than 80% of plant species make friends with a common fungus. In return for sugar, the fungus helps the plants extract nutrients from the soil. But rice plants, a primary food source for billions of people, don’t have this special relationship—and thus they don’t receive the extra boost the fungi give other plants. A new study suggests that with a little help from researchers, however, the fungus will bond with rice, increasing the plant’s growth rate by up to five times.

The first two generations of funghi had little impact on the rice, but the grandchildren did, which researcher Ian Sanders and his team surmise is due to the greater genetic variability of the third generation grown under laboratory conditions.

The research was published in the 10 June issue of Current Biology.