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Gene Could Aid Fertilizers and End Pollution

A phosphate-transport gene has been identified by scientists at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University. Plants absorb phosphates from the soil with the help of mycorrizhal fungi, and scientist will now be able to manage this symbiotic relationship to enhance sustainable agriculture. "Phosphorus is a nutrient wherever it goes, and in our lakes and rivers it often nourishes undesirable algae," explained Maria Harrison, a senior scientist at the Institute. "Agriculture is a major source of phosphate pollution, so anything we can do to improve phosphate uptake in plants will make agriculture more sustainable and less harmful to the environment." The phosphorus uptake protein discovered by Dr. Harrison has been identified in the plasma membrane of the plant and also reveals the molecules that are at work behind the scenes of two species that interact to the benefit of both. The fungi work together with the plant to regulate the transfer of phosphorus by bringing it to the roots. More efficient plant growth using less phosphorus-based fertilizer will lead, in turn, to less phosphate runoff into the surface water and underground aquifers. There is still much work to be done, but ultimately this work will lead to a much greater understanding of how nutrients are absorbed by plants. The research is funded by the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Program and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.

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June 15, 2019, 10:36 pm PDT

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