It should come as no surprise that our current industrialised agricultural system is in crisis. Huge monoculture farming methods and the use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers leave the soil gasping for life, often depleted of nutrients and unusable after a few generations. As part of this intensive farming system, chemical nutrients have to be added to the soil before each crop is sown. One of those nutrients is phosphorus, an essential chemical in the production of the building blocks of life – DNA, RNA and ATP – as well as the phospholipids which form the membrane walls of cells. Gardeners will be used to scattering bone ash as a fertilizer on their home gardens, but large concentrations come from phosphate rocks.
Symbiosis, Funghi and Plants
“Symbiosis is a close association between two types of organisms belonging to different species with usually beneficial consequences for both or at least one of the organisms. The mycorrhiza symbiosis is the best example and consists of an association between the plant roots and soil fungi. The arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis is so far the most common and widespread symbiotic associations on earth, and concerns more than 80% of vascular plants.” Mohamed Hijri
In the TED presentation below, biologist and associate professor Mohamed Hijri discusses how dependent plants are on finding phosphorus in the soil, and how we are facing a crisis in the availability of phosphorus worldwide.
With that in mind he presents an intriguing solution: an ancient mushroom (arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi) that has evolved over 450 million years has developed the ability to form a symbiotic relationship with the root systems of plants. He explains that these tiny funghi are important to the land-based eco systems because they help plants to increase the uptake of phosphorus by growing into and around the plant roots and sharing nutrients.