Some bacteria boost wheat yields byDenysSlee

THE ABILITY of an important group of bacteria to significantly boost cereal yields is under test in field trials being conducted in SA and WA.

The bacteria are Actinomycetes, which have been shown by the biotechnology group at SA's Fiinders University to suppress the activity of crop root pathogens and generally stimulate the growth of cereals.

"Actinomycetes live inside the roots of healthy wheat and many other types of plants, including some Australian natives," said the head of the University's Department of Medical Biotechnology, Chris Franco.

"We have found that these bacteria have the ability to restrict the growth of several fungal root diseases, including take-all, Rhizoctonia, pythium and fusarium, by producing chemicals that actually kill the fungus.

"Some also produce plant growth hormones that increase the growth of plants."

Professor Franco said the actions of Actinomycetes had been assessed glasshouse experiments at the University since 1998, but last year the were cultured and sown as a coating on wheat seed in field trials at a number of sites in SA.

Significant wheat yield increase

"Our most successful trial to date was one sown at Alford, on the northern Yorke Peninsula, where there was a high level of take-all in the soil," he said,

"In this trial, statistically significant increases in wheat yield of up to 68 per cent occurred due to inoculation with Actinomycetes. Over all sites there was a 6 per cent average increase in yields even if no root diseases were present."

Trials in the project, being conducted in conjunction with CSIRO Plant Industry, are continuing this year in SA and WA as part of a five-year $10 million Soil Biology Strategic Initiative implemented by the GRDC.

Program consultant, Greg Bender, said he expected that 17 projects would soon be contracted under the initiative, with research taking place in the northen, southern and western regions of the grainbelt.

"The aim of this initiative is to try to remove some of the biological constraints to increasing grain yields, and root disease is a big part of this," Dr Bender said,

Program 4 Contact: Professor Chris Franco 08 8204 5764 Dr Greg Bender 02 6248 0165

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