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Super bacteria boost yields.

Super Bacteria Boost Yields

Soybeans, the crop that produces more income than any other grown on U.S. farms, yield 5 to 7 percent more when inoculated with a recently patented super bacterium. This increased yield could bring farmers an additional $507 million income annually.

Soybeans and other legumes have the ability to make their own nitrogen fertilizer through a special symbiotic relationship these plants have with certain soil-dwelling bacteria. Farmers buy these bacteria as legume inoculate and apply them to seed just before planting. The bacteria form nodules on pea, bean, and alfalfa roots, and it is from this new home that the bacteria multiply and manufacture nitrogen.

L. David Kuykendall, ARS microbiologist, Beltsville, Maryland, used classical bacterial genetics to alter a Bradyrhizobium species so that it produces more nodules on soybeans than bacteria now commercially available to farmers.

While Kuykendall often uses state-of-the-art biotechnology in his research, this time he selected chemical mutation to create this improved bacterium.

William J. Hunter, ARS microbiologist, Fort Collins, Colorado, studied the physiological and symbiotic characteristics of this new bacterium. In greenhouse studies, he discovered that, under optium conditions the new bacterium caused soybean plants to produce 56 percent more root nodules and 41 percent more nodule mass than conventional bacteria. Plant nitrogen content increased almost 50 percent and plant weight about 25 percent.

Kuykendall and Hunter have been awarded patent (No. 5,021,076) for their new bacterium. Kuykendall and co-workers in his laboratory had previously conducted research on the physiology and genetics of Bradyrhizobium species. They studied how strains already present in field soils compete with USDA 110, the strain that farmers often use to inoculate seed. [See "The Best Bacteria for Soybean Roots," Agricultural Research, October 1989, p. 18.]

The researchers say their work should pave the way for scientists to develop improved nitrogen-fixing bacteria for other leguminous plants.

PHOTO : Mature soybeans. (K-4389-2)

L. David Kuykendall is at the USDA-ARS Soybean and Alfalfa Research Laboratory, 10300 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705-2350. Phone (301) 504-5736. William J. Hunter is at the USDA-ARS Crops Research Laboratory, 1701 Center Ave, Fort Collins, CO 80526. Phone (303) 498-4208.
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Title Annotation:Agnotes
Author:Senft, Dennis
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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