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Plant growth promoting rhizobacteria
- Microorganisms for agricultural development


Plant growth promoting rhizobacteria are bacteria that colonize plant roots, and in doing so, they promote plant growth and/or reduce disease or insect damage. There has been much research interest in PGPR and there is now an increasing number of PGPR being commercialized for crops. Organic growers may have been promoting these bacteria without knowing it. The addition of compost and compost teas promote existing PGPR and may introduce additional helpful bacteria to the field. The absence of pesticides and the more complex organic rotations likely promote existing populations of these beneficial bacteria. However, it is also possible to inoculate seeds with bacteria that increase the availability of nutrients, including solubilizing phosphate, potassium , oxidizing sulphur, fixing nitrogen, chelating iron and copper. Phosphorus (P) frequently limits crop growth in organic production. Nitrogen fixing bacteria are miniature of urea factories, turning N2 gas from the atmosphere into plant available amines and ammonium via a specific and unique enzyme they possess called nitrogenase. Although there are many bacteria in the soil that ‘cycle' nitrogen from organic material, it is only this small group of specialized nitrogen fixing bacteria that can ‘fix' atmospheric nitrogen in the soil. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are root symbiotic fungi improving plant stress resistance to abiotic factors such as phosphorus deficiency or deshydratation.

The fourth major plant nutrient after N, P and K is sulphur (S). Although elemental sulphur, gypsum and other sulphur bearing mined minerals are approved for organic production, the sulphur must be transformed (or oxidized) by bacteria into sulphate before it is available for plants. Special groups of microorganisms can make sulphur more available, and do occur naturally in most soils.
One of the most common ways that PGPR improve nutrient uptake for plants is by altering plant hormone levels. This changes root growth and shape by increasing root branching, root mass, root length, and/or the amount of root hairs. This leads to greater root surface area, which in turn, helps it to absorb more nutrients.

Disease control

PGPR have attracted much attention in their role in reducing plant diseases. Although the full potential has not been reached yet, the work to date is very promising and may offer organic growers some of their first effective control of serious plant diseases. Some PGPR, especially if they are inoculated on the seed before planting, are able to establish themselves on the crop roots. They use scarce resources, and thereby prevent or limit the growth of pathogenic microorganisms. Even if nutrients are not limiting, the establishment of benign or beneficial organisms on the roots limits the chance that a pathogenic organism that arrives later will find space to become established. Numerous rhizosphere organisms are capable of producing compounds that are toxic to pathogens like HCN

Challenges with PGPR

One of the challenges of using PGPR is natural variation. It is difficult to predict how an organism may respond when placed in the field (compared to the controlled environment of a laboratory. Another challenge is that PGPR are living organisms. They must be able to be propagated artificially and produced in a manner to optimize their viability and biological activity until field application. Like Rhizobia, PGPR bacteria will not live forever in a soil, and over time growers will need to re-inoculate seeds to bring back populations.

PGPR in Research

Over the years the PGPR (plant growth promoting rhizobacteria) have gained worldwide importance and acceptance for agricultural benefits. These microorganisms are the potential tools for sustainable agriculture and the trend for the future. Scientific researchers involve multidisciplinary approaches to understand adaptation of PGPR to the rhizosphere, mechanisms of root colonization, effects of plant physiology and growth, biofertilization, induced systemic resistance, biocontrol of plant pathogens, production of determinants etc. Biodiversity of PGPR and mechanisms of action for the different groups: diazotrophs, bacilli, pseudomonads, Trichoderma, AMF, rhizobia, Phosphate solubilising bacteria and fungi, Lignin degrading , chitin degrading , cellulose degrading bacteria and fungi are shown. Effects of physical, chemical and biological factors on root colonization and the proteomics perspective on biocontrol and plant defense have also shown positive results. Visualization of interactions of pathogens and biocontrol agents on plant roots using autofluorescent protein makers has provided more understanding of biocontrol processes with overall positive consequences.

Ways that PGPR promote plant growth

• Increasing nitrogen fixation in legumes
• Promoting free-living nitrogen-fixing bacteria
• Increasing supply of other nutrients, such as phosphorus, sulphur, iron and copper
• Producing plant hormones
• Enhancing other beneficial bacteria or fungi
• Controlling fungal diseases
• Controlling bacterial diseases
• Controlling insect pests

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