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The effects of algae fertilizer on wheat root morphology

Lisa Mau

Global food supply is largely dependent on staple crops; amongst them bread wheat (Triticum aestivum, L.). To secure worldwide nutrition in terms of quantity and quality of food, new sustainable agricultural technologies are needed. One approach is the replacement of finite rock phosphate with renewable phosphorus (P) sources, for example algal biomass. Previous work (1) demonstrated that wheat acquired similar amounts of P from an algal source as compared to conventional rock phosphate fertilizer. This work also showed algal dependent changes in wheat root morphology. We hypothesize that (1) algae P is available to wheat and can be taken up by the root systems directly, and (2) the mode of uptake of algal P is different than conventional P in terms of root morphology. To test this hypothesis we will combine chemical analyses of algal fertilizer with mass balance analyses and plant phenotyping experiments to quantify the algal P forms and their mode of uptake by wheat. A single strain Chlorella vulgaris (BEIJERINCK) culture will be used as the algal fertilizer. Secondly, we will conduct a mass balance analysis on exiting data from Schreiber et al. 2018. We will take advantage of highly controlled sterile cultivation in the EcoFAB chambers. Chemical analyses will be carried out to identify the dynamics of the pools of P within the experimental setup. We expect that algal nutrients can and will be utilized by the plant and we will observe changes in morphology, metabolism and exudate composition in and around the root. The analysis will allow predictions on the molecular usable inorganic and organic forms of P from algae. The third step will be to investigate whether the compounds that we identified are responsible for the observed changes. The hypothesis is that we can identify algal components that are used by the plant. Overall this project is aiming to understand how algal biomass can become a fertilizer. Within that frame we specifically aim to exploit the nutrient accumulation in algae and hopefully identify traits that will allow cultivation and application of algae fertilizer under less controlled parameters.

1. C. Schreiber et al., J. Appl. Phycol. 30, 2827–2836 (2018).