10.6 Microbes as Biofertilisers

With our present day life styles environmental pollution is a major cause of concern. The use of the chemical fertilisers to meet the ever-increasing demand of agricultural produce has contributed significantly to this pollution.

Of course, we have now realised that there are problems associated with the overuse of chemical fertilisers and there is a large pressure to switch to organic farming – to use of biofertilisers. Biofertilisers are organisms that enrich the nutrient quality of the soil.

The main sources of biofertilisers are bacteria, fungi and cyanobacteria. You have studied about the nodules on the roots of leguminous plants formed by the symbiotic association of Rhizobium.

These bacteria fix atmospheric nitrogen into organic forms, which is used by the plant as nutrient. Other bacteria can fix atmospheric nitrogen while free-living in the soil (examples Azospirillum and Azotobacter), thus enriching the nitrogen content of the soil. Fungi are also known to form symbiotic associations with plants (mycorrhiza).

Many members of the genus Glomus form mycorrhiza. The fungal symbiont in these associations absorbs phosphorus from soil and passes it to the plant. Plants having such associations show other benefits also, such as resistance to root-borne pathogens, tolerance to salinity and drought, and an overall increase in plant growth and development.

Can you tell what advantage the fungus derives from this association? Cyanobacteria are autotrophic microbes widely distributed in aquatic and terrestrial environments many of which can fix atmospheric nitrogen, e.g. Anabaena, Nostoc, Oscillatoria, etc. In paddy fields, cyanobacteria serve as an important biofertiliser.

Blue green algae also add organic matter to the soil and increase its fertility. Currently, in our country, a number of biofertilisers are available commercially in the market and farmers use these regularly in their fields to replenish soil nutrients and to reduce dependence on chemical fertilisers.

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