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The Lincoln Agritech Biotechnology Group (from left to right): Dr Richard Weld, Dr Johanna Steyaert, International Intern Camille Vagner, Nicholas Glithero, PhD Student Thomas Flinois and Simon Lee.

A new Lincoln Agritech research program is looking at ways of using naturally-occurring bacteria and fungi to increase the availability of nitrogen to plants and improve plants’ tolerance to stress.

A second program will work towards naturally removing ‘off’ flavours in wine.

Biotechnology Team Manager Dr Richard Weld, who is leading the research, said the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has awarded the programmes a combined $8.2m.

“This is a notable achievement for a small organisation,” he said.

Nitrogen  uptake and reducing stress

The first of the two projects will benefit the forestry and pastoral sectors by allowing pine trees and grasses to convert atmospheric nitrogen into plant-available mineral nitrogen in the same way that legumes such as clover do.

Dr Weld said this can be achieved by optimising the natural microbial communities associated with the plants, thereby creating new symbioses between plants, bacteria and fungi.

“We will select bacteria that fix nitrogen and that enhance plant tolerance to stress,” says Dr Weld. “These bacteria will then be combined in symbiotic association with two fungi which naturally live within plants.

“After this, the fungal-bacterial hybrids can be introduced to pine trees and perennial ryegrass. The combination will make the plants more resistant to stress and more able take up nitrogen.”

 

“After this, the fungal-bacterial hybrids can be introduced to pine trees and perennial ryegrass. The combination will make the plants more resistant to stress and more able take up nitrogen.”

 

Dr Weld claimed that no other researchers have attempted a triple symbiosis between fungi, bacteria and these plants.

The research team from Lincoln Agritech, Lincoln University, Scion and AgResearch includes scientists who have been instrumental in developing fungal biocontrol endophytes.

The team are working with commercial companies which are already producing and licensing fungal endophytes; the new fungal-bacterial hybrids will be added to their product lines.

Off flavours

The second research program involves using bacteria with two unique features: they are naturally magnetic and have an unusual sulphur metabolism that allows them to derive energy from hydrogen sulphide. This means they can be controlled using magnetic fields and used to remove hydrogen sulphide from wine, which can be responsible for ‘off’ flavours.

Dr Weld says the research will use the wine industry as an exemplar, but the technology can benefit other industries where hydrogen sulphide is also an issue.

The program involves researchers from both Lincoln Agritech, Plant and Food Research, Aix-Marseille University, in France, and will take place over a two-year period.

“Our job is to do the over-the-horizon science to keep our primary industries competitive.  We are very grateful to MBIE for supporting these research programmes, and we are looking forward to helping the wine, pastoral and forestry sectors keep their competitive edge on the world stage,” said Lincoln Agritech CEO Peter Barrowclough.

Lincoln Agritech is an independent multidisciplinary research and development company owned by Lincoln University.

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