Quirks & Quarks

Powerful microbe fights a crop fungus

Bacteria works with the finger millet plant to defend against fungus
Fields of finger millet (Eleusine coracana) in the Annapurna-region of Nepal (Mikael Häggström)

Subsistence farmers in Africa and Asia have long reported that finger millet, a small cereal grain, is resistant to devastating fungus that typically sickens humans and affects livestock. But its close cousins, corn and wheat, easily succumb to it. In the process, billions of dollars worth of crops are lost in Canada and around the world.

Dr. Manish Raizada, associate professor in the Department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, has worked with subsistence farmers throughout Africa and Asia. This connection prompted him and a team of researchers to explore the inner workings of the hardy finger millet plant. 

Raizada's lab has uncovered what might be a big part of this plant's success: a naturally occurring bacteria that have an unusual way of protecting their host from the fungus. And they think this beneficial bacteria can be transferred to related crops around the world.

A handful of harvested finger millet. (UK Department for International Development)

Related Links:

  • Raizada Lab at The University of Guelph
  • University of Guelph press release
  • Paper in Nature Microbiology: Root-hair endophyte stacking in finger millet creates a physicochemical barrier to trap the fungal pathogen Fusarium graminearum