Specialized crops can boost bacteria: USDA ARS

Contact: Jan Suszkiew
Email: [email protected]

May 16, 2022

Quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-Wah”) is increasingly popular as a high-protein, mild-flavored grain-like seed that can be made into flour for bread and pasta, used in soups and cereals, eaten as a snack, and fermented into alcoholic beverages such as beer.

Colorado and Nevada currently lead US quinoa production, but the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and collaborating scientists are looking for ways to support the local expansion of this highly nutritious “pseudo-grain”, which is native to the Andean region and has been cultivated as a staple food crop by indigenous peoples. There for several thousand years.

One way scientists hope to expand quinoa production in the United States and meet growing consumer demand is to help the crop better deal with threats from new pests and diseases it may face, as well as environmental or climatic stresses, such as salty soil and drought. Interestingly, one solution may come in the form of symbiotic bacteria that require more than just a home on the roots of the quinoa plant. In turn, scientists are learning that bacteria help their hosts thrive by providing them with more nutrients and by fending off disease-causing fungi, among other benefits.

Anna Testin, a plant pathologist at the ARS Applications Technology Research Unit in Worcester, Ohio, investigates quinoa-friendly bacteria with Paul Blackman, professor emeritus at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, and Myra Claros Magnus, former president of the Biology Lab. Micro of the Foundation PROINPA in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Their goal is to explore the potential use of the bacteria as a seed inoculum that could benefit the quinoa crop from the moment it sprouts in the soil to the time it reaches full maturity and is ready for harvest. More broadly, their research aligns with efforts around the world to position quinoa as a crop rich in protein, vitamins and fiber that can contribute to global food security, particularly in resource-limited regions. In fact, the United Nations declared 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa” in recognition of the crop’s resilience, nutritional value and potential to help tackle chronic malnutrition.

In the studies, the team evaluated the growth-promoting traits of nearly 500 different samples, or “isolates” of the symbiotic Bacillus bacteria collected from the roots, buds or leaves of the quinoa plant in Bolivia and Ecuador as well as from lamb quarters (Chenopodium and annual pedigrees). for quinoa) in Pennsylvania.

Scientists are evaluating beneficial bacteria to help quinoa adapt to new growth regions in the world and treat malnutrition. (Photo by Anna Testin, ARS)

Specifically, the team evaluated the isolates for five traits: the ability to dissolve phosphorous (which makes it usable by the quinoa plant) and produce the enzyme phytase (which plays a key role in making those nutrients available), and indole acetic acid (a known key plant hormone) as “IAA”) and chitinase (which degrades chitin in fungal cell walls). The fifth attribute was the ability to prevent growth Fusarium oxysporum Fungi that cause “inhibiting” disease and root rot in quinoa.

Test results have been reported in an upcoming release of advance plant health, showed that 75% of Bacillus isolates were soluble phosphorous, while 89, 44 and 13% produced phytase, IAA and chitinase, respectively. Only about eight percent inhibited Fusarium fungi in Petri-dish experiments.

Bacillus species that offer all five growth-promoting traits, Testen said, would be ideal candidates for use in seed pollination products that farmers can use — but especially if the bacteria are native to an area where the quinoa crop will be introduced and grown. Using molecular markers – similar to road signs on an organism’s genomic “highway” – could help researchers identify these species and target a specific trait they provide, such as higher phosphorous solubility, to a specific need for quinoa production.

“Phytosanitary rules may prohibit the transfer and introduction of beneficial microbes along with quinoa when the plant is introduced to a new area,” Testin said. “For this reason, there may be interest in finding native microbes that are adapted to Chenopodium species and local environmental conditions. Your best bet for this is to look for native Chenopodium herbs such as lamb’s ribs that are closely related to quinoa.”

Testen plans additional research on Bacillus in specialty crop production systems, including hydroponic vegetable systems, as well as cost-effective ways to produce beneficial bacteria for use in pollination products.

The Agricultural Research Service is the primary internal scientific research agency of the US Department of Agriculture. ARS focuses daily on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Every dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 in economic impact.

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