Phosphorus is a necessary nutrient for plants to grow. But when it’s applied to plants as part of a chemical fertilizer, phosphorus can react strongly with minerals in the soil, forming complexes with iron, aluminium and calcium. This locks up the phosphorus, preventing plants from being able to access this crucial nutrient.
To overcome this, farmers often apply an excess of chemical fertilizers to agricultural crops, leading to phosphorus build-up in soils. The application of these fertilizers, which contain chemicals other than just phosphorus, also leads to harmful agricultural runoff that can pollute nearby aquatic ecosystems.
Now a research team led by the University of Washington and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has shown that microbes taken from trees growing beside pristine mountain-fed streams in Western Washington could make phosphorus trapped in soils more accessible to agricultural crops. The findings were published in October in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.