Researchers identify micro-organisms that could help vegetables grow better

A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has identified almost 300 species of micro-organisms that grow together with common Asian vegetables, in what they say is the first step towards helping high-tech urban farmers produce more crops with less chemical fertilizers.

The NUS team collaborated with a commercial urban farm in Singapore, obtaining soil samples, seedlings and mature plants of three common Asian vegetables: choy sum, kai lan and bayam. The microbes and their genetic material in the soil and on the plants were then extracted for analysis.

Assoc Prof Swarup, commented, “Green leafy vegetables are nutrient-dense and packed with bioactive compounds known for promoting human health. These leafy greens are short-cycle crops, suitable for adoption in various farming formats. Focusing our research priorities on this food group will address food and nutritional security and cater to both quantity and quality aspects of food production.”

Using a supercomputer, the researchers identified almost 300 species of bacteria and a group of single-celled, bacteria-like organisms known as archaea. From the data, they found that the microbes could potentially benefit the vegetables by providing nutrients, stimulating growth and suppressing pathogens.

Dr Pavagadhi Shruti, senior manager of the team, added, “We have seen how food supply chains are adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, we need urgent reformative actions to build greater food resilience and security. Through this study, we are taking the first step towards building innovative solutions to boost local production in a highly sustainable manner.”

Photo caption: (From left to right) Dr Pavagadhi Shruti, Associate Professor Sanjay Swarup and Dr Aditya Bandla with samples of choy sum at different stages of growth.

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