Fungal-Plant Symbiosis: Boosting Crop Resilience and Paving the Way for Sustainable Agriculture

Cabbage White Caterpillar

Cabbage white caterpillar eating an oilseed rape plant. Credit: Benjamin Fuchs, University of Turku

Researchers inoculated rapeseed plants with a species of fungus that is known for its ability to combat pest insects. Utilizing the relationship between beneficial fungi and crop plants may introduce a new era of agriculture where the plant resilience is improved and the ecological footprint of traditional/chemical pesticides is minimized.

The researchers used Beauveria bassiana, a species of fungus known for its ability to combat pest insects. It is commonly used as a biopesticide that is sprayed on the leaves of crops. These biopesticides are used around the world, but their weakness has been their vulnerability to UV degradation. This led the researchers to explore an alternative approach where they inoculated rapeseed plants with the fungus to foster a unique symbiotic relationship.

Cabbage Aphids

Cabbage aphids are common pests in oilseep rape plants. Credit: Benjamin Fuchs

Implications of the Symbiotic Relationship

Researchers made a breakthrough by establishing an endophytic relationship between the fungus and rapeseed plants. The growth of the fungus in the plant tissue triggered a remarkable increase in flavonoid biosynthesis and compounds known for multiple plant benefits including antioxidant properties.

“Our findings suggest that the interaction between the fungus and the plant spurred a positive response in the form of enhanced metabolite production, rather than a defense response against the fungal intruder,” states lead author of the study, Academy Research Fellow Benjamin Fuchs from the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku.

Flavonoids produced by the rapeseed plant and renowned for their antioxidant properties and their role in UV protection, flower pigmentation, and herbivore deterrence, took center stage in the study’s results.  Next, the researchers aim to find out how great of an impact this particular fungus has on plant resilience against environmental stressors and how it impacts crop quality.

Cabbage Aphids Rapeseed Plant

Cabbage aphids in an oilseed rape plant. Credit: Benjamin Fuchs, University of Turku

Promising Future for Sustainable Agriculture

“Our study holds immense promise for sustainable agriculture. By embracing the symbiosis between beneficial microbes and crop plants, we’re ushering in a new era of agricultural practices that reduce reliance on chemical pesticides,” says Fuchs.

According to the researchers, partnerships between organisms like the one unveiled in this study offer a glimpse into the future of agriculture where society strives to secure its food supply while minimizing the ecological footprint.

“With the increasing recognition of the role of microbes in plant health and advanced biotechnological tools at hand, the stage is set for innovative approaches to optimize crop resilience and quality on a smart and sustainable path,” notes Fuchs.

The study is part of the EcoStack project in the EU’s Horizon Europe program. The research article was published in the esteemed Pest Management Science journal.

Reference: “Endophytic Beauveria bassiana induces biosynthesis of flavonoids in oilseed rape following both seed inoculation and natural colonization” by Anne Muola, Traci Birge, Marjo Helander, Suni Mathew, Vili Harazinova, Kari Saikkonen and Benjamin Fuchs, 19 July 2023, Pest Management Science.
DOI: 10.1002/ps.7672