A broad range of microorganisms, including phytopathogenic fungi and bacteria, are capable of producing volatile compounds that encourage plant growth, flowering and the accumulation of reserve substances. This has been shown in a study led by the Carbohydrate Metabolism research group of the Institute of Agrobiotechnology, a joint center of the Spanish National Research Council, the Public University of Navarre and the Government of Navarre.
The discovery could be applied to improving crop yields sustainably and as an alternative to conventional agrochemical treatments, and to encourage interaction between plants and a small number of beneficial microorganism strains. The results have been published in two papers in the journals Plant Cell and Environment, and Plant Physiology.
"This study proposes for the first time the concept of 'Bad little critters, beneficial workers', according to which non-beneficial microorganisms constitute a promising unexplored, source of biostimulatory substances with a high biotechnological potential," explained Javier Pozueta, a CSIC researcher at the Institute of Agrobiotechnology.
The papers also include the results of the studies conducted on the biochemical and molecular mechanisms involved in the "positive" response of plants to volatile compounds produced by microorganisms that, from an anthropocentric perspective, are regarded as "negative" or "not beneficial".
Such studies show that microbial compounds exert a positive effect on the plant's capacity to convert CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the air into biomass. The work is consistent with the idea that the organisms are linked to or communicate with each other through "infochemicals" or substances that "convey messages".
The finding constitutes a useful line of study in the face of the increasing demand for food resulting from world population growth and the progressive reduction in arable land.
The work was carried out in collaboration with researchers from the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research of the University of Palacký (Czech Republic) within the collaboration framework of the international I-LINK 0939 project of the i-LINK+ programme, funded by the CSIC, to promote international scientific collaboration.