Boyce Thompson Institute developed a genetically encoded biosensor that could help improve fertilizer use efficiency. The study, published in New Phytologist, is highly beneficial to agriculture.
BTI postdoc fellow, Maria Harrison, explores the symbiotic relationships between arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi and land plants. The host plant exchanges carbon for mineral nutrients such as phosphate, from the fungus. The fungus uses filament-like structures called hyphae to get the nutrients out from the host and then into the soil. However, it remains a mystery how AM fungi impact phosphate content in their hosts, and how individual host cells react to changes in phosphate content.
This led Harrison and colleagues at Texas A&M University to develop a biosensor that could monitor phosphate transfer. They improved the previously developed biosensor, which are fluorescent proteins genetically encoded in plants to detect ions. The biosensors were redesigned for use in mycorrhizal root cells, and this allowed the researchers to observe the variations in phosphate content among the cells of a Brachypodium distachyon root and in the cells of a nearby fungus under different developmental stages. They were also able to detect the speed of phosphate transfer to nearby plant cells.
(Source: Crop Biotech Update, International Service for Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.

Photo Credit: BTI