An international plant study could lead to the reduction in the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Although the researchers encouraged the idea of ending the need for all fertilizers and pesticides, in reality, that result is many years away.

The study helps to explain how microbial communities (microbiomes) living in and on plant roots can boost plant health, growth and defense against pests. By focusing on the microbiomes, researchers discovered that microbiome helps shuttle nutrients and information into and out of the roots within the soil matrix.

The research was led by the University of North Carolina, the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute and included the University of Queensland in Australia.

The findings suggest that plant health could be boosted in the microbiome by plant probiotics that could eventually replace fertilizers and pesticides. Co-author Susannah Tringe, head of DOE JGI's Metagenome Program, said the microbiome can be viewed as an extension of the plant's genome.

“We can't really know a plant genome's full functional capacity until we also understand the functional capacity and the drivers governing assembly of its associated microbiome,” she said.

By improving the health of the microbiome, the plant will be able to better resist pests, grow stronger, greener and healthier with less need for crop nutrients, the researchers contend.

“In the same way that microbes play critical roles in and around our own bodies, we are adopting this concept of host-associated metagenomics in plant genomics as well, as it will ultimately lead to predictive interventions that will increase plant health and productivity, disease resistance and carbon capture.”

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