Enhancing a plant's immune system with 'probiotics' could help it to fight off pests and diseases without the need for pesticides, according to scientists at the University of Sheffield.
Experts at the University's Institute for Sustainable Food have launched a study, funded by a £1.5 million grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, into how beneficial bacteria protect plants' health—in a similar way to gut bacteria in humans.
With concern about the impacts of pesticides on human health and the natural world growing, and disease resistance leading farmers to increase their use, the team is hoping to find a chemical-free solution.
Today, many fruits and vegetables—particularly tomatoes and soft fruits like strawberries—are grown hydroponically (without soil) in vast greenhouses and polytunnels covering 948 hectares in the UK. This enables farmers to grow high-value produce out of season—but because the plants are grown in sterile conditions, any diseases that do find their way inside can devastate entire crops.