Beneficial bacteria help wheat stand the heat
by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
Global warming has increased the number of severe heatwaves that wreak havoc on agriculture, reduce crop yields and threaten food supplies. However, not all plants perish in extreme heat. Some have natural heat tolerance, while others acquire heat tolerance after previous exposure to higher temperatures than normal, similar to how vaccines trigger the immune system with a tiny dose of virus.
But breeding heat tolerant crops is laborious and expensive, and slightly warming entire fields is even trickier.
There is growing interest in harnessing microbes to protect plants, and biologists have shown that root-dwelling bacteria can help their herbaceous hosts survive extreme conditions, such as drought, excessive salt or heat.
“Beneficial bacteria could become one of the quickest, cheapest and greenest ways to help achieve sustainable agriculture,” says postdoc Kirti Shekhawat. “However, no long-term studies have proven they work in the real world, and we haven’t yet uncovered what’s happening on a molecular level,” she adds.
To fill this knowledge gap, Shekhawat, along with a team led by Heribert Hirt, selected the beneficial bacteria SA187 that lives in the root of a robust desert shrub,Indigofera argentea. They coated wheat seeds with the bacteria and then planted them in the lab along with some untreated seeds. After six days, they heated the crops at 44 degrees Celsius for two hours. “Any longer would kill them all,” says Shekhawat.
The untreated wheat suffered leaf damage and ceased to grow, while the treated wheat emerged unscathed and flourished, suggesting that the bacteria had triggered heat tolerance. “The bacteria enter the plant as soon as the seeds germinate, and they live happily in symbiosis for the plant’s entire life,” explains Shekhawat.
> Source: PHYS.org