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Management of plant-beneficial microbes to balance fertiliser inputs in maize monoculture

Final Report Summary - MICROMAIZE (Management of plant-beneficial microbes to balance fertiliser inputs in maize monoculture)

The objective of MICROMAIZE was to develop and validate integrated farming practices based on phytostimulation and biofertilisation to enable a reduction of chemical fertiliser usage in maize monoculture. Maize is a strategic target as it is often grown in a nonsustainable way in Europe, and it has been imported from Mexico in relatively-recent times, without its entire guild of root-associated beneficial microbes. The project focused on synergistic consortia of multifunction plant-beneficial microbes comprising the two PGPR Azospirillum (nitrogen fixation and modulation of plant hormonal balance) and Pseudomonas (phosphate solubilisation and phytohormone modulation), and the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus Glomus (nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization/acquisition).

Novel research tools including micro-array technology, biosensors and plant metabolomic profiling were used to design consortia and monitor plant-microbe interactions in situ. The establishment of introduced and indigenous plant-beneficial microbial consortia in the maize rhizosphere was sought by inoculation and by management of the indigenous microbial community via the choice of maize genotypes, respectively.

The novel microbial management strategies developed in this project were integrated with current farming practices in maize monoculture. They were tested validated at different field locations throughout Europe (and in Mexico) under real life conditions, and agronomic effects on crop yield, yield quality and food safety (mycotoxins) were quantified. Microbial innovation was disseminated to farmers and other end-users via demonstration actions and various dissemination modes.

These goals were achieved by a partnership including three top academic centres, two technical institutes, two SMEs, one OTH and an INCO partner who is currently managing the largest successful inoculation program for maize worldwide.

The project MICROMAIZE will have several impacts on the research sector, which include:
- the development of new PCR tools to monitor inoculant survival;
- the development of new fluorescent biosensors and the optimisation of labelled nutrient monitoring to understand inoculants functioning;
- the development of HPLC procedures to assess the physiological response of maize to inoculation;
- new knowledge on the Pseudomonas plant-beneficial traits P solubilisation and ACC deamination;
- new knowledge on the importance of matching microbial inoculants and maize genotypes;
- new knowledge on the plant-beneficial potential of Azospirillum Pseudomonas Glomus three-component consortia;
- new knowledge on the biosafety (i.e. lack of toxicology effects) of Azospirillum Pseudomonas Glomus consortium;
- new knowledge on the functioning of Azospirillum Pseudomonas Glomus consortia under field conditions.

The project MICROMAIZE will have several impacts on the industry, especially for industrial partners of MICROMAIZE. This includes:
- the development of strain-specific tools enabling analysis of strains of commercial potential;
- the identification of promising Azospirillum Pseudomonas Glomus three-component consortia;
- the development of new formulations, which although not giving full satisfaction yet, will provide a starting base from which further improvement can now be sought;
- new knowledge on the type of maize line responsive to microbial inoculation;
- toxicology assessment of promising Azospirillum Pseudomonas Glomus consortium, which is a prerequisite for registration and commercialisation;
Baseline information on the ecology of Azospirillum Pseudomonas Glomus consortia under agronomic field conditions.