Fungus fuels tree growth | 7/22/2019 | Staff
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The fungus Mortierella elongata enjoys a dual lifestyle; it can thrive in the soil as a saprophyte, living off decaying organic matter, or as an endophyte, living between a plant's root cells. The fungus is almost always found among and within poplar trees, and in an effort to understand its influence on the plant, a team of scientists studied what happens to the tree's physical traits and gene expression when the fungus is present.

Black cottonwood, or poplar, (Populus trichocarpa) is the fastest growing hardwood tree in the western United States, making it an energy feedstock of particular interest to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). By better understanding how poplar responds to its intimate associations with endophytes—a group whose effects on plants are still not well understood—scientists can better fine-tune their engineering efforts of both plants and root microbiomes to grow energy crops more efficiently.

Partnership - Endophyte - M - Elongata - Poplar

To interrogate the close partnership of endophyte M. elongata and poplar, a team led by ****-Ling (Sunny) Liao of the University of Florida collected forest samples of poplar and soil from Washington and Oregon. The cuttings included genotypes from the DOE BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), predecessor of DOE's Center for Bioenergy Innovation (CBI) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. To see how the fungus affected poplar growth, the team compared poplar cuttings grown with and without an inoculation of the M. elongata strain PM193 added to a diluted soil mixture, publishing the results in Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions.

The results were striking. Adding PM193 caused poplar cuttings to grow about 30 percent larger by dry weight...
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