Engineering

Microorganisms to substitute pesticides in future farming

Microorganisms to substitute pesticides in future farming

With the right types of microorganisms in the soil, farmers may eventually be able to completely quit using pesticides in the future. Associate Professor Morten Dueholm and his colleagues are currently mapping the effect of microorganisms on plants’ growth and well-being.

DNA reveals microorganisms

By using DNA-technology to analyze soil samples, Morten Dueholm from the Department of Chemistry and Bioscience at Aalborg University can identify which microorganisms can be found living in the soil of any given field.  The organisms may include bacteria, roundworms, fungi, or other microscopic lifeforms that thrive in symbiosis with the plants. This knowledge is extremely useful as the organisms hold important keys to the growth of crops and plants.

- Some bacteria or fungi may help the plants obtain nourishment or protect them against infections and diseases, he explains.

- The goal is to be able to tell the benign ones from the malignant ones and to map the interaction between the microorganisms in the soil and various plants. This way, the organisms can be utilized to create the best possible growth terms for the crops.

However, mapping is a challenging task. Morten Dueholm estimates that we are still only familiar with and understand a mere fracture of the microorganisms that occur in the ground. Often, only small sections of the organisms’ DNA-strings are mapped. This means that the researchers are still unable to name them, because formal naming requires the single organisms to be isolated or identified with complete sets of DNA.

The consequence of nameless organisms is that they are hard to recognize and compare. Morten Dueholm expects a complete overview to be several years ahead in the future. But when we get there, the potential is overwhelming.

A future with no pesticides

With the right knowledge, future farming will be able to utilize the various properties of different microorganisms to avoid using pesticides and instead rely completely on sustainable biologic methods.

The presence of microorganisms is largely reliant of the types of crops that have been sowed. This means that it is possible – when the various properties of microorganisms have been mapped – to prep the ground for specific plants by rotating different crops between the fields, explains Morten Dueholm.

- The target is that in five to ten years we will be able to use our knowledge about microorganisms in the soil to phase out the use of pesticide and to optimize our farming processes in a sustainable manner, he says.