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Thread: Microbiome to the rescue!

  1. #1 Microbiome to the rescue! 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    Nov 2008
    New Zealand
    First a definition. For those who are not familar with the term, the "microbiome" is all the micro-organisms associated with an individual. Humans have a microbiome which includes all the gut bacteria, and skin bacteria. Those 'bugs' have a profound effect on the workings of the human body, even determining who is thin and whom is obese. The microbiome of plants also includes a lot of fungi, as well as bacteria.

    Regular contributors to this forum will be familiar with the various disaster claims made relating to loss of humanity's ability to grow food, often as a result of global warming. Thus, we get predictions of food crises in the future.

    Thus, I was very interested in an article in the 28 July issue of New Scientist, under the title "Superplants may beat the heat." This discussed a new way of making crop plants fit for growing under unusual environmental conditions, like too hot, too dry, too salty etc.

    The new technique is to extract all the bacteria and fungi that grow in and around plants adapted for these unusual conditions, and dress crop seeds with those microorganisms. Frequently, with the novel microbiome, the crops were suddenly able to grow in those, previously inhospitable, conditions, and produce useful harvests of food.

    Some example :

    A grass that grew at 70 C at Yellowstone, had its microbiome transferred to wheat seeds, which suddenly could grow at 70 C and with much less water.

    Microbiome from a salt loving dunegrass added to rice seeds - the rice could then grow in salty soil.

    Microbiome from a cold tolerant strawberry added to rice. The rice could then grow at 5 C.

    This new approach permits crops to be grown under conditions of unusual heat, or cold, or salt, or to become tolerant of drought. Novel bacteria and fungi associated with those crop plants were symbiotic, allowing adaptation to the adverse conditions.

    It is early days yet, but the signs are that this will permit food production not only to remain high, but to increase even further to feed the population as it peaks at 10 billion. My optimistic view of the future of humanity, and the ability of smart people to find new and innovative ways of solving problems seems once more to be justified. Global warming, and even salination of irrigated crop lands will not prevent us from growing food for the human species.

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