Biostimulant trials show game-changing responses to plant stress

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15 December 2020
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Biostimulant trials show game-changing responses to plant stress

COMBINING unique biostimulants with micronutrients could be the answer to crop losses caused by drought, according to new trial results.

The study, by researchers at Nottingham Trent University in collaboration with Micromix, looked at the effect of a hybrid biostimulant with nutrients on drought and heat tolerance in a range of crops. It found that the product changed the plants’ response to stress, increasing drought tolerance by 25-35% and boosting yields by up to 30%. 

Professor of sustainable agriculture at the University, Chungui Lu, said: “This is really game-changing – it could offer a big contribution to global food security. In the UK alone, we could save millions of Pounds in lost crops.”

Abiotic stress resulting from extreme temperatures, water, salt and solar radiation induces a metabolic and epigenetic change in a plant, weakening its natural defence mechanisms and increasing its susceptibility to disease, pests and subsequent crop failure, said Prof Lu.

“Biostimulants have the potential to affect a plant’s response to this stress, stimulating its own natural processes, while micronutrients enrich its growing environment. This new formulation comprises a number of key nutritional materials, including micronutrients, in a novel combination with several biostimulant components, which will suppress abiotic stress and stimulate further growth.”
 
The trial is the latest to be carried out on this new technology, after it produced remarkable effects under initial testing on protected salad and field crops in the Middle East, South East Asia and Europe. “We realised we had accidentally discovered a new kind of synergy, and needed to validate it scientifically,” says Wilson Boardman, founder at Micromix and product developer. In 2014, with Prof Lu, he secured a £247,000 Innovate UK research grant, through which they discovered that the key genes relating to heat tolerance were strongly upregulated by the new technology. 
 
In 2018 Mr Boardman and Prof Lu secured an £807,948 Innovate UK grant to further investigate the genetic influence of the product. Prof Lu looked at a variety of crops, including potatoes, wheat, peas and Pak choi, and discovered specific genes which were triggered by the biostimulants, using plant genomic / transcriptomic technologies. This reduced the negative impact of stress and stimulated plant growth. 
 
“We identified 178 key genes that are affected by the new biostimulant technology, which provides insight into gene regulation and molecular markers for breeding programmes targeted at drought tolerance,” said Prof Lu. “This will have a big impact for agriculture, protecting against climate change and directly protecting crop growth and quality.” 

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For example, treated crops increased cutin formation and reduced respiration, preventing water loss, while also increasing some enzymes and defence activity, boosting nutrient transfer, growth and disease resistance. 

Prof Lu plans to publish his scientific paper in early 2021, and will then apply for further grant funding to help develop the next generation of biostimulants. 

“We want to design larger field trials across more crops, to identify the correct rate and timing of application for different crops.”

Micromix plans to launch products based on the research to market in the next two years, although application techniques will be refined as the research continues. 

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