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The extensions of the “golden berry”

The benefits of using mycorrhiza in groundcherries (Physalis peruviana) are evident for plant nutrition, the economy of the farmer and the delight of the consumer, which will enjoy a larger, more attractive and better-tasting fruit.

According to Biotechnology Ph.D. María Margarita Ramírez Gómez, Coordinator of a research project which looks to, among others, improve the yield of groundcherry crops, mycorrhizas are comparable to the hair extensions used by women, in this particular case they are for the roots of the plants, which help them feed better.

In normal weather conditions and even more with the current climate change, soils become dry or are flooded and plants are not capable of taking the necessary nutrients from the ground. Taking this into consideration, Dr. Ramírez, Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) alumni and Agrosavia researcher is looking into the benefits of arbuscular mycorrhiza (a type of mycorrhiza in which the fungus penetrates the cortical cells of the roots of a vascular plant), specifically for groundberry crops.

According to data of the Colombian Foreign Trade Association (ANALDEX, for its Spanish acronym), Colombia trades between 5,000 and 6,000 tons of groundcherries, mainly to Europe and the United States. This figure is significant if we take into account that the Colombian Fruit and Vegetable Association (ASOHOFRUCOL, for its Spanish acronym) reported an average yield for groundberry crops in 2017 of 11.51 tons per hectare. Groundcherries grow between 1,500 and 3,000 meters above sea level (MASL) and in Provinces such as Cundinamarca, Boyacá, Cauca and Nariño.

Since planting to the first harvest, it takes an average of 90 days, according to the altitude, the higher the crop the more it will take to harvest. Ramírez’s research, directed by Department of Biology Professor and member of the UNal Biotechnology Research Institute (IBUN, for its Spanish acronym) Alía Rodríguez Villate, is essential to increase the nutrition in groundberries”.

Mycorrhizas also contribute to preserving the environment

The research project was carried out in crops between 1,900 and 2,700masl in the provinces of Cundinamarca and Boyacá, in the municipalities of Granada, Silvania, Arcabuco, Mosquera, Zipacón and Albán. This fungus adapts to diverse environmental conditions and has great potential for families devoted to groundberry cropping.

According to Ramírez, “at Agrosavia (formerly Corpoica) we have been working for close to 30 years in the symbiotic association of arbuscular mycorrhiza-forming fungi (AMFF) HFMA) in diverse plant species.

The novelty of this research project is that they made these fungi interact in symbiosis, which allows substituting between 30 and 50% of chemical fertilizers used in groundberry crops. This benefits the farmer because it reduces production costs. Using arbuscular mycorrhizas supposes crops more committed to caring for the environment.

Mycorrhizas are only visible through a microscope and exchange nutrients with plants in a specialized structure known as the arbusculum, on the cortex of roots. Groundberry roots cannot take all the nutrients from the ground, therefore using these mycorrhiza-forming fungi helps them extend the reach of roots in the ground.

The plant provides carbohydrates to the fungus for its development and the fungus helps carry nutrients from the ground to feed the plant. Fungus hypha can penetrate places where the roots cannot and replenish water and nutrients. “The fungus does not fix nitrogen or solubilize nutrients, they just help transport nutrients, they are kind of underground nutrient and water transportation highways,” says Ramírez.

Soil samples gathered in different periods

The goal of this research project was to assess the diversity of AMFFs and their relationship in establishing the symbiosis in Physalis peruviana plants in the production areas of the Colombian Andes.

The method used consisted of gathering 13 samples comprised of groundberry crop soil during the dry (0-20mm of rain month-1) and rainy season (150-330mm month -1), in a transect (observation and data recording technique) in the Andes between 1,500 and 3,000masl.

“We carried out physical and chemical analysis of the soil with the purpose of establishing the relationship between the edaphic features and the diversity of AMFF communities,” she added. They also analyzed the abundance of spores and species and diversity rates, whose results showed the presence of 46 species in the dry season and 31 species in the rainy season, showing the great diversity of AMFFs in the tropical Andes.

Along with E. Sieverding (Germany) and Fritz Oehl (Agroscope-Switzerland), two of the best taxonomists in the world and with support from Ian Sanders (University of Lausanne, Switzerland), they classified the mycorrhiza-forming fungi by analyzing the spores. The results observed in root colonization suggests the multiple symbiotic-association character, in different moments and places, in the simultaneous presence of three and up to seven species, colonizing roots during a period of seven months.

The research project helped to verify the initially proposed hypothesis: “The edaphic conditions that modulate the composition and abundance of AMFF communities” improve crop yields. Furthermore, they verified the association capability of Physalis peruviana with AMFF species and Rhizophagus irregularis lines and determined the functional compatibility of groundberries with species of Glomus and Racocetra.

Our territory is diverse and we still need to discover the microscopic wealth of the soil. The tropics are so diverse that we can generate a biomass as large as the Amazon. Research in science and technology will help identify which are the fungi that can help recycle the nutrients of the soil.

Read the thesis in its entirety in Spanish at:


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