Diversity in a fungal symbiont affects rice performance

Nigel Chaffey over at Annals of Botany is really extraordinarily good at finding — and writing about — extraordinarily interesting plant stuff. Plus his Plant Cuttings is free. That’s why I always link to him, either in Nibbles or as a post. His latest offering is particularly agrobiodiversity-laden, with pieces on the results of the CGIAR Science Forum, the bad behaviour of some pollinators, rice, engineering a better photosynthesis, and Newton’s apple tree in space. I could have written a post about any of these, really, but why bother when Prof. Chaffey has done such a great job already?

Having said that, though, I still can’t resist making a particular mention of work by Caroline Angelard and others at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Their paper in Current Biology investigates the symbiotic interaction between an arbusculo-mycorrhizal fungus (AMF) and rice. These fungi consist of a common cytoplasm inhabited by populations of genetically different nuclei. When spores form, different ones end up with different nucleotype complements. Which can get mixed up again through genetic exchange between spores. So what? Well, because all this genetic toing and froing (or, technically, segregation) has only recently been discovered, “no attempts have been made to test whether this affects the symbiosis with plants.” Until now. And it turns out that it does. Segregation “can enhance the growth of rice up to five times, even though neither parental nor crossed AMF lines induced a positive growth response.”

So here’s another level of agricultural diversity to worry about. And what’s the betting that there is genetic diversity in rice as to its response to the genetic diversity of its symbiotic fungi?

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