Posted: November 30, 2023

Corn-colonizing fungus may help the crop repel disease, grow larger

A fungus that can colonize, or grow within, corn plants doesn't just leave the plant unharmed — it also can help the plant stave off harmful bugs and other fungi, according to entomologists and plant pathologists in the college.

The researchers applied the fungus metarhizium robertsii to corn seeds before planting them and untreated seeds in a greenhouse. Once the seedlings were large enough to have sprouted three or four leaves, the scientists applied c. Heterostrophus — a fungus that causes southern corn leaf blight — to the treated and untreated plants.

They found that when M. Robertsii colonized corn, the plants were less vulnerable to the effects of C. heterostrophus. Additionally, corn plants grown from seeds treated with M. robertsii grew to be taller and heavier than plants grown from untreated seeds.

Mary Barbercheck, professor of entomology, said the findings suggest that M. robertsii could be an important tool in growing corn crops and helping those crops stave off disease, especially for organic growers who must use primarily physical, mechanical and biological ways to control pests, weeds and diseases.

"There's been a lot of interest recently in biological products to put on seeds or plants either to replace or complement synthetic chemicals," Barbercheck said. "These findings could potentially be used to help develop a treatment to apply to plants or to treat seeds before they're planted. This could help promote growth and protect the plants from pests and disease."

—Katie Bohn