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Microbes Help Improve Quinoa Seeds
Quinoa is a South American grain that’s gaining a reputation worldwide for its versatility and high protein content. One drawback is that the crop is vulnerable to crop diseases. Recent breakthroughs might solve that problem.
One breakthrough involves a form of symbiotic bacteria found on quinoa roots. These microbes rely on the roots to support themselves. In turn, they improve the bioavailability of nutrients in the soil for the plant and fend off potential disease-causing pathogens.
Plant pathologist Anna Testen and Pennsylvania State University professor Paul Blackman are working together to determine whether this bacteria has the potential for use as a quinoa seed inoculant. In theory, this would help protect quinoa plants throughout the growing season.
Their research focuses on five traits of the bacteria: its ability to produce phytase, indole acetic acid, and chitinase; its ability to make phosphorus usable for the quinoa plant; and its ability to prevent the growth of fungi that cause “damping off” and root rot during the early growth stages.
Early results in petri dishes show that the bacteria has the most substantial potential for solubilizing phosphorus, while there’s less evidence it will work to fight off the fungi. Even so, finding bacteria families that accomplish all five well remains a high priority.
The end goal might be selling seed inoculants to farmers that are tailored to the farming challenges in their region. Ideally, the inoculants would use bacteria indigenous to where it will be used to prevent the spread of microbes from one region to another. One strategy has been to look at native weeds within the same family as quinoa - such as lambsquarters - for bacteria serving a similar purpose.
Many challenges still exist with this research, including national regulations. Phytosanitary rules can make it illegal to transport microbes from one region to another, even in the name of food production. This will make it harder for any research breakthroughs to benefit farmers outside the immediate region where they happen.
Still, researchers remain optimistic about the long-term benefits of this research. Says Dr. Testen, “We would like to be able to use this approach and screen these bacteria in quinoa production in the field. We would also like to see other researchers worldwide be able to use approaches similar to what we used to collect beneficial microbes from quinoa that would work best in their local crop production environments.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Dr. Anna Testen (Anna.Testen@usda.gov).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #1