(CN) – Resistance to antibiotics has become an increasingly worrisome problem in both medicine and agriculture, where livestock and plants have lost the ability to resist diseases that strive to stay one step ahead. But scientists have discovered a “plant probiotic” in the soil of a remote Mexican jungle that helps plants grow more efficiently and defend against harmful bacteria.
Researchers at Rutgers published their findings in Nature Communications on Tuesday after discovering the bacterium called phazolicin that prevents inimical biotics from entering the root systems of bean plants.
“We hope to show the bacterium can be used as a ‘plant probiotic’ because phazolicin will prevent other potentially harmful bacteria from growing in the root system of agriculturally important plants,” said study author Konstantin Severinov, a scientist at Rutgers. “Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem in both medicine and agriculture, and continuing searches for new antibiotics are very important as they may provide leads for future antibacterial agents.”
Severinov and his team found phazolicin in a tropical forest in Los Tuxtlas, a forested region in southern Mexico. The bacterium is a previously unidentified strand of rhizobium, a nodular system of microbes that form inside the root systems of bean plants.
Bean plants and legumes are a critical staple for several agricultural systems and economies throughout the world.
The use of the newly discovered plant probiotic could extend to a plethora of crops such as beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, soybeans and other legumes.
The scientists used computer models and bioinformatic analysis to predict the presence of phazolicin in the jungle and then took samples and confirmed it in the laboratory. The researchers diagramed the atomic structure of the plant probiotic and showed how it binds to the plant roots and encourages the production of nitrogen, which helps spark more robust growth of the plants in question.