The broader impact/commercial potential of this Partnerships for Innovation - Technology Translation (PFI-TT) project will support the development of a woman-owned small business and the training of underrepresented students learning farming technologies. This project will identify plant symbionts that improve crop productivity, nutrition, and secondary metabolite production in organic agriculture and will directly influence contemporary farming practices. In preliminary trials, the team isolated mycorrhizal fungi; These plant root symbionts have been shown to improve crop yield by as much as 30%. This project will result in products for organic or conventional farmers to increase crop yield, either in biomass, nutritional value, or the concentration of marketable phytomedicinal compounds in their crop species. The technology may improve the profit margins of organic and conventional farmers in the US and beyond. Beyond the commercial potential, this team will also contribute to scientific understanding of how plant symbionts such as mycorrhizal fungi influence plant secondary metabolite production and plant nutrient composition. These mycorrhizal fungal isolates could help ease soil stress and nutrient loss that occur in long-term organic agricultural soils across the world, improving the global agricultural environments.
The proposed project will assess the effect of mycorrhizal fungi on organic crop production. Maintaining productive soils in organic agriculture is challenging, as few options are available for farmers to improve the soil conditions of their field. This difficulty can lead to lower crop productivity and even failed crop establishment. Mycorrhizal fungi are soil organisms that symbiotically associate with plants to deliver difficult-to-acquire soil nutrients to plant hosts. In preliminary trials, the team has identified several highly beneficial mycorrhizal fungi that can be cultured in a laboratory setting to be applied in organic agriculture. This research will use field and greenhouse assays to assess more than 40 crop varieties to identify crops that demonstrate the strongest growth and nutritional improvement after inoculation with unique mycorrhizal isolates compared to commercially available mycorrhizal products. Mycorrhizal mediated abiotic stress resistance will be assessed by testing how mycorrhizal applications compare to traditional organic fertilizer application in situ with a local organic farm. This project will also help farmers understand how specific mycorrhizae can alter the concentration of plant secondary metabolites that are marketed for their medicinal, nutritional, or other dietary value for plants with large economic impact.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.