Endophytes of Sorghum: A Potential Bio resource for Sustainable Crop Production
BACKGROUND: In Sub-Saharan Africa climate changes are predicted to aggravate constraints to plant production by altering patterns of precipitation. Both increased drought and more frequent periods with intense precipitation (flooding) may directly cause reduced crop yield and may indirectly decrease both quality and yield by enhancing plant disease pressure. Research has shown that temperate grasses are naturally growing in symbiosis with endophytic fungi living entirely inside the plants and being transmitted through the grass seeds. The symbiotic advantage for the plant is increased resistance against both drought and fungal diseases. HYPOTHESIS AND AIM: We hypothesize that in a cropping system having a sustained selection for crop resistance against drought and diseases, symbiotic endophytes are likely to be found due to their selective value for the plants. We propose to investigate the natural occurrence of endophytes in sorghum, grown as the most important crop by subsistence farmers in the semi-arid Sahel region (i.e. Burkina Faso) without the use of fungicides and propagated through farm-saved seeds (sustained selection for seedtransmitted endophytes). We propose to test the ability of selected endophytes to confer resistance in sorghum to drought and fungal infection - particularly infection by mycotoxinogenic fungi. By the exploiting regional biodiversity of Sahel this project may create new knowledge to fortify crop production against worsening climate conditions. METHODS: Endophytes will be isolated both from farm-saved seeds and from individual plants in the field selected by outstanding growth. Isolates of endophytes will subsequently be tested under controlled greenhouse conditions for ability to increase resistance of sorghum against drought and fungal disease. One African postdoc (full time) and two Danish researchers (half time) will carry out the project. RESULTS: Identification of beneficial endophytes will allow subsequent field experiments to fortify sorghum production against climate changes. PARTNERSHIP: The project extends an already established collaboration between INERA (Burkina Faso) and Danish Seed Health Centre (Denmark) now strengthened by key endophyte technology provided by Aarhus University, holding the application.