Farm and Field

Soybean study discovered genes controlling mycorrhizal colonization

Posted: Jan. 19, 2020 12:01 am

Like most plants, soybeans pair up with soil fungi in a symbiotic mycorrhizal relationship, and in exchange for a bit of sugar, the fungus acts as an extension of the root system to pull in more phosphorus, nitrogen, micronutrients and water than the plant could on its own.

Mycorrhizal fungi occur naturally in soil and are commercially available as soil inoculants, but new research from the University of Illinois suggests not all soybean genotypes respond the same way to their mycorrhizal relationships.

"In our study, root colonization by one mycorrhizal species differed significantly among genotypes and ranged from 11 to 70%," said Michelle Pawlowski, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Crop sciences and co-author on a new study in Theoretical and Applied Genetics.

The process of root colonization starts before fungal spores even germinate in the soil.

Roots exude chemicals, triggering spores to germinate and grow toward the root. Once the fungus makes contact, there's a complex cascade of reactions in the plant that prevents the usual defensive attack against invading pathogens. Instead, the plant allows the fungus to enter and set up shop inside the root, where is creates tiny tree-like structures known as arbuscules where fungus and plant trade sugar and nutrients.

According to the study, the genes control chemical signals and pathways that call fungus toward roots, allow the plant to recognize mycorrhizal fungus as a "good guy" and help build arbuscules.

Knowing which genes control root colonization could lead breeders to develop soybean cultivars with a higher affinity for mycorrhizal fungus, which could mean improved nutrient uptake, drought tolerance and disease resistance.

"This environmentally friendly approach to improving soybean production may also help reduce the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides and promote more holistic crop production systems," said Glen Hartman, plant pathologist in the Department of Crop Sciences and crop pathologist for USDA-ARS.

IPPA, ICGA donations

Illinois Pork Producers Association and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board donated 100,263 pounds of ground pork to foodbanks throughout the state in 2019 on behalf of the Pork Power program.

Since its inception in 2008, Pork Power has generated more than 721,000 pounds of pork, or nearly 3.8 million servings, for Illinois families. Farmers and partnering commodity groups contribute to the program year-round to help feed hungry neighbors.

Toward the end of each calendar year, IPPA turns the remaining funds into ground pork and divides it among the regional foodbanks in the state. In November and December alone, more than 53,000 pounds were delivered to the regional foodbanks just in time for the holidays. Compeer Financial also contributed to the year-end donations at three pantries.

"As farmers, feeding hungry people is a core value and something that everyone on our board feels passionate about," ICMB Chairman Roger Sy said.

IPPA encourages pig farmers to participate in the program by covering the processing fees of their donated pigs.

Learn more about the donation process at