Bacteria may make sugarcane farming ‘greener’

"The process we used has identified a potential biofertilizer for Queensland sugarcane, and a useful method for developing bacterial biofertilizers that could work in other parts of the world on different varieties of sugarcane," says Chanyarat Paungfoo-Lonhienne. (Credit: Rod/Flickr)

A new species of bacterium could potentially reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizer in sugarcane farming.

Current nitrogen fertilizers are expensive and their run-off can damage the environment, says Chanyarat Paungfoo-Lonhienne, from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience and School of Agriculture and Food Science at the University of Queensland and the Australian Centre for Ecogenomics.

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“One way to overcome the problems associated with nitrogen fertilizers is to supplement them with bacteria as a biofertilizer. Bacteria use nitrogen from the air to produce nitrogen compounds that feed plants, so the crop receives the nutrients it needs with increased sustainability and at a lower cost.

“Using bacteria as a biofertilizer in sugarcane production has had varying results to date, but we took a new approach and found a potential source in the bacteria already present around the roots of thriving sugarcane plants.”

For a new study published in Microbial Biotechnology, Paungfoo-Lonhienne and colleagues examined bacteria in the soil and roots of sugarcane from two plots near Ayr in North Queensland and identified three abundant types.

In the roots

They tested the ability of these bacteria to boost sugarcane growth in controlled laboratory conditions and found one that promoted plant growth. The team then sequenced the bacterium’s genome to confirm its genetic potential to turn nitrogen into plant food.

The sequence also revealed that the bacterium is a new species, which the team named Burkholderia australis.

“The process we used has identified a potential biofertilizer for Queensland sugarcane, and a useful method for developing bacterial biofertilizers that could work in other parts of the world on different varieties of sugarcane,” Paungfoo-Lonhienne says.

The team’s next step is to determine methods of delivering the bacterium to the sugarcane on a larger scale and to carry out field trials.

The research was supported by the Queensland government and conducted in collaboration with the sugar industry.

Source: University of Queensland