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Growing plants with friendly fungi

Trichoderma protects plants (right) from pre- and post-emergence pathogens. Image: Chris Thornton

Climate change may mean that dry and hot conditions will become more common across the world, including in the UK, so researchers are looking at novel ways to make plants more tolerant of dry spells.

Data breakout

GD12 Strain of Trichoderma hamatum found naturally in soils
500% Increase in root matter using Trichoderma fungi

Dr Chris Thornton and colleagues at the University of Exeter are examining whether adding a safe and harmless fungus to compost boosts the growth and proliferation of crops' roots, helping them to grow using less water. Not only that, trials currently underway with a major supermarket brand supplier are investigating whether the plants exposed to the fungus can also be grown in the absence of fertiliser.

So far the growth promotion effect has been shown in lettuce grown in the glasshouse – in the absence of fertiliser a significant improvement in root matter has been achieved. Furthermore, previous studies have shown that the fungus has properties as a natural biocontrol agent of pathogenic fungi and could reduce the need for synthetic fungicides.