Sitting down with Dr. James White from Rutgers University to dig into the Rhizophagy Cycle and what it means for a plant to cultivate microbiomes for genetic potential, Episode 1 of the Soil Science Series covers groundbreaking research and plant functionality from the Rhizophage pioneer himself.
While farming seems like a big picture concept, Dr. White uses soil microbiome “farming” to describe the Rhizophagy Cycle. He shares the cycle is a new development of symbiosis between plant nutrients from bacteria and the nutrient extraction process in the intracellular and endophytic phase.
It’s a simple exchange for microbes between the endophytic phase and a free-living phase.
“Once the bacteria reach the inside of the of the plant cell, it hits the bacteria with reactive superoxide and it begins extracting nutrients out of the bacteria,” Dr. White says. “The reason this nutritional process acts as a cycle is when the bacteria reach the plant cell they are replicated and trigger root hair formation.”
Contrary to plant roots taking up nutrients, the roots in the Rhizophagy Cycle put microbes back into the soil. Dr. White mentioned when the microbes release from the root hairs, they release a bit of sugar to reform their cell walls.
“Ten years ago, everyone would’ve said the role of root hairs was only to absorb nutrients into the soil water. While that may be true, it’s not the main role,” Dr. White mentioned, adding the root hairs are to act as an elevator, moving microbes back out of the soil and into the rhizosphere.
Nonetheless, without bacteria there is no root hair formation. Dr. White suggests this correlation links root hairs directly to the microbes and less directly to absorbing the nutrients. He added no matter how much fertilizer is applied for root hair elongation, it’s all about nutrient absorption and the microbials are a key player in this cycle.
“This is not your mother’s agronomy, instead it’s all about the endophytes and studying the microbials in detail as they move into plant tissue,” Dr. White said, adding it’s less about soil structure and chemistry, but rather about the reaction between the two phases.
“I believe it’s a powerful concept when people understand how plants are treating the microbes and it opens up a whole other way of feeding plants and taking care of the plants by support the microbials,” Dr. White said. “It’s a different strategy that applying chemicals directly on the plant because too much fertilizer will in fact inhibit the Rhizophagy Cycle.”
Ultimately, plants that are in the Rhizophagy Cycle are more drought tolerant than plants being fed with fertilizer. Dr. White mentioned as microbes act as a shield of armor against potential pathogens and disease, they grow on the roots as an endophyte to benefit the plant.
While rebuilding microbiome for seedlings in developing plants is the next focus during the cycle, nitrogen fixing bacteria is front of mind as well. Dr. White said in fact, research shows nitrate forming around the bacteria inside the trichome plant hairs.
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