ROOT DEVELOPMENT IN SWEET-CORN INOCULATED WITH THE
BIOCONTROL FUNGUS TRICHODERMA HARZIANUM
Thomas Björkman, Gary E. Harman, and Lisa Blanchard. Department of Horticultural Sciences, NYSAES, Cornell University, Geneva, NY 14456
Production of shrunken-2 sweet corn is often limited by poor establishment. Good root development is necessary for establishment, and it can be limited by stress or disease. Trichoderma harzianum strain 1295-22 was developed as a biocontrol fungus with particularly strong root colonizing ability. In addition to acting as a biocontrol agent, it stimulates root growth. In greenhouse experiments using field soil, root dry weight 21 days after planting was 500 mg, greater compared with 320 mg in uninoculated controls, an average increase of over 50%. The thoroughness of soil exploration more than doubled, from 31% (control) to 70% (Trichoderma) of the soil being within 1 cm of a root. The difference in performance was not attributable to disease: no disease symptoms were evident, the occurrence of disease organisms was low, it was the same in both treatments, and it was not associated with smaller plants. Furthermore, the greatest differences were noted in steam-sterilized soil. Colonization of the roots by Trichoderma was related to the age of the root. The oldest part of the radicle had 106 cfu/g root DW. Branched seminal roots had 105.5 cfu/g. Even the rapidly-growing tips of the first-whorl roots were well-colonized (104.7 cfu/g). The mechanism of increased root growth has not been identified, but colonized roots acidify about 0.1 pH units more than control roots, which could cause both faster acid-growth and increased ion uptake. Ion leakage into distilled water is about 25% lower in colonized roots.
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