Arbuscular mycorrhizas and biological control of soil-borne plant pathogens – an overview of the mechanisms involved
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Biological control of plant pathogens is currently accepted as a key practice in sustainable agriculture because it is based on the management of a natural resource, i.e. certain rhizosphere organisms, common components of ecosystems, known to develop antagonistic activities against harmful organisms (bacteria, fungi, nematodes etc.). Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) associations have been shown to reduce damage caused by soil-borne plant pathogens. Although few AM isolates have been tested in this regard, some appear to be more effective than others. Furthermore, the degree of protection varies with the pathogen involved and can be modified by soil and other environmental conditions. This prophylactic ability of AM fungi could be exploited in cooperation with other rhizospheric microbial angatonists to improve plant growth and health. Despite past achievements on the application of AM in plant protection, further research is needed for a better understanding of both the ecophysiological parameters contributing to effectiveness and of the mechanisms involved. Although the improvement of plant nutrition, compensation for pathogen damage, and competition for photosynthates or colonization/infection sites have been claimed to play a protective role in the AM symbiosis, information is scarce, fragmentary or even controversial, particularly concerning other mechanisms. Such mechanisms include (a) anatomical or morphological AM-induced changes in the root system, (b) microbial changes in rhizosphere populations of AM plants, and (c) local elicitation of plant defence mechanisms by AM fungi. Although compounds typically involved in plant defence reactions are elicited by AM only in low amounts, they could act locally or transiently by making the root more prone to react against pathogens. Current research based on molecular, immunological and histochemical techniques is providing new insights into these mechanisms.
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