Can bacteria help plants resist stress?

An LSU AgCenter plant pathologist is investigating whether good bacteria can help a plant resist stress in the environment.

Jong Ham and his research group are continuing their study on biostimulants and how beneficial bacteria added to soybean seeds can enhance soybean plant growth and yields. Ham has been investigating the use of biostimulants on soybean plants and rice for about five years. Last year he looked at the growth of the plants with seed treatments. His latest project focuses on helping plants survive abiotic stress such as floods or drought.

“We’re not just looking at disease resistance,” Ham said. "Nowadays a major issue is the damage from environmental effects and the effects of stress.”

Ham is looking at biological and chemical compounds that show increased defense to disease and abiotic stress. He is conducting experiments at two locations to test under different conditions. He has plants in the field and in a greenhouse at the LSU AgCenter Doyle Chambers Central Research Station in Baton Rouge and in fields at the Red River Research Station near Shreveport.

“We test the chemical by itself, the beneficial bacteria by itself, and then we are planning in the next year to test the chemicals and biological compounds together,” he said.

Ham imposes flooding or drought conditions on plants grown from treated and untreated seeds and checks them at four days after the stressor and again after seven days to see how the plants are faring. He said his data so far is encouraging.

He also is comparing his treatments to those commercially available and said it appears his treatments worked better than commercial products.

Ham’s treatments include a mixture of up to 10 different bacterial agents. He said it has been a challenge to manage the mixture to keep the bacteria active and shelf stable.

“The first obstacle is to make a formulation for a long shelf life,” he said. Additional tests include seeing how long the treatment will be effective on the seed.

Ham also is working to identify and isolate more bacteria that target stress resistance. He said after he collects data from this year, his next step would be to test the materials in additional locations across the state to see how the treatments perform.

Three samples of soybean plants, including roots, are displayed on a dark surface.

Soybean plants exposed to a seven-day drought condition show various root development. At left is a plant without seed treatment. The middle and right are plants with seed treatment with two different bacterial mixtures, respectively. Photo by Jong Ham’s graduate student Sandeep Gouli, who is helping conduct the research.

9/14/2023 1:52:51 PM
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