Exploring the plant stress response: Laboratory work shows a plant’s reaction to stress can actually rob yields

April 26, 2007 04:01 PM
 

Creation of the F 500® strobilurin chemistry has opened new doors to an understanding of how plants react to disease and other stresses, and how that reaction can impact crop yields. Dr. Dirk Voeste, head of plant health Research at BASF Agricultural Products in Limburgerhof, Germany, drives the company’s effort to unlock plant secrets. He spoke to media at the 2007 BASF plant health Symposium in Tampa, Fla.

"Research at BASF has been focused on digging deeper into understanding the mechanism of plant health and how it works," Voeste says. "The next step is to drag that information forward from the laboratory into the field and into grower recommendations to see how plant health can really provide a benefit to the grower and increased profitability."

There are specific diseases and other stressful conditions that challenge crop yields. There are the biotic stresses of insects, fungi, bacteria and viruses, which cause yield losses to a certain degree.

Then there are the abiotic stresses including drought, but this can also include minor stresses such as shadows in the field where the plant doesn’t reach its full performance, he explains.

The challenge is to reach the plant’s built-in potential for yield. "You can do this in two ways: through biotechnology and through the disease control brought about by new fungicide technologies – especially with the nearly untapped potential of the chemistry of plant health," Voeste says.

As far back as the 1980s, with early fungicide development at BASF, researchers noted that where F 500 was used, the fields always had higher yields and were greener compared to fields with standard fungicides, and this occurred in thousands of field trials. "While good news for growers, BASF scientists had to learn the mechanism of such a response," Voeste adds.

The company has created a plant health research network that includes universities and institutes from around the world, and all are looking into several aspects of physiological understanding of what F 500 does to a plant.

With this research network and program, BASF is making a long-term commitment to expand its plant health portfolio to continue to be at the forefront of plant health.

Photosynthesis and stress
Voeste summarized potential mechanisms that react to F 500, showing two areas of interest: photosynthesis in the plant and nitrate assimilation.

"F 500 reduces respiration in the plant so that it breathes less, which allows it to invest more of its energy into photosynthesis," Voeste explains. "In addition, when the assimilation of carbon dioxide is measured, depending on the dose of the fungicide, it’s apparent that there is an increase, or response. This shows photosynthesis is positively impacted by F 500."

As for nitrogen assimilation, university partner research has shown that F 500 has a positive impact on nitrate reductase, a key enzyme for nitrogen assimilation. The work shows that following an application of F 500, nitrate uptake increased and plant biomass rose, he notes.

Stress and product ion
A look at plant stress response in different trials showed that F 500 can reduce a plant’s stress response, or ethylene production, which allows the plant to continue producing green tissue and focus on yield, Voeste explains.

"In one trial, measurements made after plants were stressed showed a similar measurement of ethylene as control plants that were not subjected to stress. In another trial, we measured the level of oxygen radicals created as a stress response and after F 500 application, the radicals were dramatically reduced," he notes.

There is a lot of evidence that F 500, to a certain degree, helps the plant manage stresses, keeping chlorophyll production higher while reducing the plant’s production of ethylene as a stress response, Voeste says.

"The focus on Plant Health will bring a better growth performance and stress tolerance to crops, and BASF is pioneering that research," Voeste concludes.


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