Mushrooms could be a strong ally to improve crops and to get key nutrients absorbed by plants, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Leeds that specifically analyzed the relationship between cereal plants and soil fungi. According to the researchers, it would be possible to resort to a lower quantity of fertilizers using soil fungi also in view of the global climate changes that are taking place considering that the fertilizers themselves are a major cause of global carbon emissions.
Researchers have studied the relationship between fungi and plants in the laboratory and have noticed that some fungi known as arbuscular mycorrhizae come into a strong connection with the roots of cereal plants to provide these last significant amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. In return, the plants provide them with carbohydrates in a relationship known as symbiosis.
The study, published in Global Change Biology, talks about mushrooms as a “new valuable tool to help guarantee future food security in the face of climate and ecological crises,” as Katie Field, a researcher at the English University and the Global Food and Environment Institute says.
The researchers noted, in the course of the observations they made, that plants can provide up to 20% of the carbon they absorb from air to the mushrooms to get up to 80% of the phosphorus they need in return. These mushrooms, in fact, contribute to increased plant growth. According to the researchers, it is possible to develop new varieties of plants that are less dependent on fertilizers, given that over the last 10,000 years these plants, especially those of cereals, have been mostly cultivated through intensive cultivation that prevented the same varieties from continuing to have connections so close to the soil fungi.
“We are beginning to realize that some of the crops we have tamed lack these important connections with the mushrooms in the soil. Our results suggest that there is real potential for breeding new crop varieties that regain this lost relationship with beneficial fungi and improve the sustainability of future food production systems,” explains Tom Thirkell, another author of the study.