Switchgrass Key to Future Plant Hardiness?

ARDMORE, Okla. — The relationship between a prairie grass such as switchgrass and naturally occurring microbes may help shed light on growing hardier plants for livestock and humans. Understanding how microbes promote prairie grasses to grow in nutrient-deficient, marginal soils could have an impact on developing forage and crops, according to researchers at The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Oklahoma.

The institutions recently received a five-year, $11 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study soil microbial populations in and around switchgrass plants that grow on nutritionally depleted soils.

“We know microbes help plants survive and thrive throughout the world, and many are critical when the plant is stressed by poor soil quality and/or water limitation,” said Kelly Craven of the Noble Foundation, who will be one of the project’s principal investigators. “If we can reveal the key processes or microbial community members that are required for a healthy, living soil, then we can potentially use them to not only produce a bioenergy feedstock with minimal inputs, but to do so in a sustainable manner.

“We see switchgrass as a model for low-input agriculture. Understanding the biology enabling this successful prairie grass to survive with minimal inputs and still produce high yields will hopefully enable us to grow healthier, hardier plants for livestock and humans.”

This article was originally published by Agri-View and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Kelly Craven, associate professor in plant biology with the Noble Foundation, will study beneficial plant-microbe interactions in switchgrass. Credit: Agri-View.

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