Microorganisms can make plants sick, but can also protect them. In order to develop environmentally-compatible plant protection agents, Christin Zachow of the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnologiy (acib) and research colleagues from the Graz University of Technology make use of these possibilities offered by nature. In principle, the bacteria are there from the very beginning as bodyguards, from the time the agricultural crops such as sugar beet, corn, sorghum, tomato and canola are planted as seeds in the fields. Bacteria which coat the seeds are designed to settle in the roots of the crops and repel parasites.
On balance, five companies are involved in the research project which has been going on since 2011. This project is designed to find methods to compete with conventional pesticides. Together with her colleague Gabriele Berg from the Institute for Environmental Biotechnology at the Graz University of Technology, Zachow is looking for those bacteria which are adapted to extreme weather conditions due to their special properties, and which can ultimately provide optimal protection to the crops. Up until now moss and lichens have served as the most promising sources for Zachow.
The team of researchers in Graz has already tested the bacteria Stenotrophomonas rhizophila in the salty steppes of Uzbekistan. There grain yields could be increased by 300 percent with the help of a suitable microbiome. The team was also successful by using Pseudomonas poae for sugar beets in Southern Germany.