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[Beijing] Chinese scientists have developed a bacterium-based product that can boost plants' growth while protecting them from harmful fungal infection.

The research was posted on the website of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) on Monday (16 October) after it was evaluated by its Institute of Botany.

Although the research is still at an early stage, the researchers hope that further trials of the product in a variety of crops will identify its usefulness for dry regions around the globe.

Called IB12, the product is made of Bacillus subtilis — a bacterium widely used as an additive in the fodder industry to improve digestion — and compounds that help the bacterium grow.

Fungal infection can seriously harm plants, causing severe disease such as leaf blast in cotton and potato crops.

B. subtilis can counter the action of fungi in a number of ways. In soil, it has been found to swiftly bind to areas on plant roots infected by fungi. Here it competes more powerfully for nutrition, starving the fungi.

The bacterium can also secrete chemicals that inhibit fungal growth, as well as hormones that stimulate the growth of its host plants.

Li Jiudi of the CAS Institute of Botany has developed IB12 over the past decade, researching varieties of B. subtilis local to many parts of western China and identifying compounds that boost its growth. Li has also studied how to purify the bacterium so that the biological product produces consistent results.  

Xu Zhaoliang, also at the botany institute, chaired the group evaluating IB12.

He found that IB12 can reduce fungal diseases in cotton by 20-25 per cent, and increase its output by over 12 per cent.

While research on the effect of IB12 on fungal diseases in potatoes is at too early a stage to see definite results, Xu and his team have already noted that IB12-treated potato tubers are much bigger than those not treated with the bacterium.

There have been some previous studies on B. subtilis, but IB12 is the first to be adapted to the environmental conditions in western China.

It might be among the first B. subtilis-based products to be commercialised in China, Xu told SciDev.Net.

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