Drought Defender: How Bacteria Can Aid Agriculture

Clean and green farmBacteria, despite being invisible to the naked eye, densely populate our environment. Billions of bacterial cells exist in a scoop of soil, are capable of surviving harsh climates and even reside within the human body. Connotations with bacteria often lean towards diseases and illness, but not all of them cause harm.

Notably, these ‘good’ bacteria can even help combat food shortage in the age of climate change.

Unconventional drought solution

Researchers from Northern Arizona University (NAU) published a study that discovered how a particular type of bacteria, called rhizobacteria helps lessen the impact of drought-induced crop loss.

Rhizobacteria grow naturally in barren regions, and the study explains how they can be collected and introduced to agricultural areas with severe water shortage. Researchers found consistent 20 to 40% growth increase in plants introduced to rhizobacteria.

Farming challenges under climate change

Such promising results can help address problems in crops and farmlands that take the hardest hit from climate change. The rapid growth in world population expects global food supply to catch up, and droughts brought about by global warming cause widespread concern.

Farm lands suffer as a consequence, brought about by severe drought. These situations gradually reduce crop yield and rising saltiness in soil further paints a bleak picture for food production.

Growth under pressure

The silver lining provided by the NAU study shows how drought does not hinder plant growth when incorporated with rhizobacteria. Research highlights the symbiosis between plants and the colony of bacteria at their roots. Plants produce sugars and carbohydrates consumed by rhizobacteria, which in turn scours the soil for nutrients needed by the plant.

The bacteria aren’t even picky with plant hosts, as researchers explain it can grow on a diverse range of plants in an equal assortment of topography. As exapta.com explains, soil conservation practices, like no-till farming and inter-cropping benefit the most from this technique.

No adverse effects have been observed upon introducing rhizobacteria to plants, but researchers are figuring out which plants are optimal recruiters of the organisms. More research is underway to determine the scale of introducing rhizobacteria for farms.