Hanna Rövenich

Empowering Plants to Protect Themselves

Plants are fascinating organisms that sustain human life on earth. They not only produce the oxygen that we breath but are essential to virtually all aspects of our lives serving as food, feed, resources for medicines, raw materials for construction, and sources of renewable energy.

Growing up in a big city in Germany with little interest in gardening as a teenager, it took me by surprise when I learned that plants contract diseases just like humans do. In severe cases, such diseases can wipe out entire fields and forests within days or weeks threatening agricultural production as well as the survival of natural ecosystems. This made me realize how important it is to understand the factors that determine plant health and disease to be able to develop strategies for plant protection.

Plant diseases caused by pathogenic microorganisms including viruses, bacteria, and fungi, result in huge crop losses worldwide every year. In addition, fungus-like oomycetes are responsible for devastating diseases such as late blight of tomato and potato, which resulted in the Irish potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century. The most common strategies to combat those diseases are chemical control and plant breeding for improved resistance. While effective, independent scientists and agribusinesses such as Bayer Crop Science constantly seek to develop novel methodologies for more sustainable agricultural practices.

Promising leads have been provided by research in the fields of plant pathology and microbial ecology, which revealed that not all microorganisms that colonize plants are dangerous. Just like humans, plants harbor a large variety of microorganisms referred to as the microbiome. Instead of causing disease, particular members of the microbiome (“microbial helpers”) contribute to the overall well being of the plant by enhancing growth, nutrient use efficiency, tolerance to stress (for example due to drought) as well as disease resistance. Maybe even more surprising is the fact that plants are able to influence the composition of their microbiomes and recruit beneficial microorganisms to prevent infection by pathogens. These findings highlight the huge agronomic potential of the use of beneficial microorganisms for crop protection.

Hanna Rövenich
Hanna Rövenich
Hanna Rövenich, PhD,
Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Cologne, Germany

Perhaps the most common use of beneficial microorganisms to date is the application of the fungus Trichoderma, which promotes plant growth and is able to parasitize fungal plant pathogens. Also other individual microbes have been applied to crop plants to enhance nutrient uptake and suppress disease but have met limited success due to the complexity of plant-microbe interactions under field conditions. Innovative projects at Bayer Crop Science are now investigating the use of different fungi and bacteria as biological crop protection agents suitable for field application. This work is supported by independent researchers from all around the world who are trying to understand how plants recognize and establish beneficial relationships with their “microbial helpers”. The generated knowledge will allow the full exploitation of the benefits of the plant microbiome and accelerate the development of new crop protection solutions. By getting these solutions to the market, Bayer ensures the constant innovation and improvement of crop disease management and sustainable farming practices.

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Radhika bongoni
October 24, 2017 - 06:43 PM

Hi there
I'm interested in the science behind. Is it genomics? Looking forward!
Radhika

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