The ability to irrigate your fields with saltwater would mean a major revolution for all those arid areas of the world that are unable to grow real crops because of the climate. It never happened because salt causes irreparable damage to plants.
But new research at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) shows that there is hope. According to the researchers who worked with Egyptian scientists, it is possible to water tomato fields with saltwater thanks to the desert mushroom.
Mohamed Abd al-Aziz also participated in the study, working on the project with Heribert Hirt. The same researcher acknowledges that increasing the salt tolerance of plants can be a very important discovery, but we must also achieve this goal in a sustainable and economical way.
The researchers used Piriformospora, a species that establishes a symbiotic relationship with plants, contributing to their growth under salt stress conditions. Studies conducted by researchers show that this fungus can improve the growth of tomato plants treated with long-lasting salt irrigation.
The researchers conducted experiments in tomato greenhouses for four months, studying the genetic and enzymatic features of two groups of plants, one of which was colonized by Piriformospora and the other not. The researchers found that the fungus enhances the expression of a certain gene in the leaves called LeNHX1.
This gene, along with other members of the same family, is responsible for the removal of sodium from the cells. Sodium accumulation can have a negative effect on plant metabolism when they deal with salt water. In addition, the researchers also found that plants treated with fungus showed higher levels of potassium in leaves, shoots and roots, indicating a higher level of activity of antioxidant enzymes.
Finally, fungus treatment increased yields by 22% under normal conditions and by 65% under salt watering.
According to the same researchers, this is a relatively simple and economical method, which can also be used for large-scale agriculture.
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