Tis 29 nov / År 40 / Nr 4 2022

Larger and healthier plants without agrochemicals – providing for a sustainable agricultural future

Research and teaching, both on basic and advanced levels, related to plant biology and environmental sciences are crucial in order to understand and create tools for a sustainable agriculture in the future. At the University of Gothenburg extensive effort is put into identifying important aspects for creating and keeping healthy ecosystems. Representing a wide area of research, the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences provides substantial knowledge to the field.

Researchers and students at the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences focus on areas such as molecular life processes in plants, the evolution and systematics of plants and fungi as well as the alpine plant ecology. Climate changes and the effect on forest and land, pollution and toxins affecting aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems are other areas of interest.

Improving photosynthesis for healthier plants
Professor Cornelia Spetea Wiklund has initiated fundamental research related to the photosynthesis, particularly identifying new proteins affecting this process. Here she gives a brief summary of the work:
“Starting year 2000, many plant genomes have been sequenced and today we can map the contained genes. However, there is still a lot more work needed in studying the proteins that are coded by the plant genes. If we can create a general understanding of how the proteins work, we can also improve the photosynthesis and thereby creating plants more tolerant to climate changes for better crops”.

Beneficial exchange between plants and fungi
In another project, Cornelia’s team is looking into the relationships formed between plants and fungi, investigating the beneficial exchange between the two – a phenomenon called mycorrhiza symbiosis.
“Plants are not able to move themselves in the ground in order to obtain the best nutrition. Fungi however, are able to build very extensive networks underground, enabling them to obtain nutrition available far away from the point of establishment. By connecting to these underground networks, plants (including trees) can share the nutrition obtained by fungi and therefore grow larger and healthier than would have been possible without the connection”, Cornelia explains.
The project has started two years ago in collaboration with a French group from Dijon and has evolved tremendously. The department has initiated collaborations with external parties such as food producers in the ambition to provide the knowledge necessary to improve plant growth and thus supporting the food industry.

Tools for a sustainable agricultural future
The core aim of the research is to identify the benefits of the relationship between plants and fungi in order to create support systems that can assist farmers, reducing the use of irrigation and fertilizers. The fungi also protect the plant from abiotic and biotic stress, making it immune to pathogens such as bacteria and insects. In return for this, the fungi thrive on plant sugars created through photosynthesis. The relationship is therefore a symbiosis, where all parties are beneficiaries.
“The benefits for society at large are evident in reduced use of agrochemicals, namely fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. An extended use of symbiosis is required to support development of sustainable farming. Larger, healthier plants provide more oxygen and bind more carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere, thus counter-acting global warming. Our research is fundamental and needed in order to understand biological processes that happen in nature. We cannot afford to wait, we must act now in order to provide the tools for a sustainable agricultural future”, Cornelia Spetea Wiklund concludes.