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June 28, 2021 / Article

ABSTRACT: Alkaline extract of the seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum stimulates arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and their endomycorrhization of plant roots

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Ascophyllum nodosum extracts (ANE) are well-established plant biostimulants that improve stress tolerance and crop vigour, while also having been shown to stimulate soil microbes. The intersection of these two stimulatory activities, and how they combine to enhance plant health, however, remains poorly understood. In the present study, we aimed to evaluate: (1) the direct effect of ANE on the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus Rhizophagus irregularis, and (2) whether ANE influences endomycorrhization in plants. ANE enhanced development of R. irregularis in vitro, showing greater spore germination, germ tube length, and hyphal branching. Greenhouse-grown Medicago truncatula drench-treated with ANE formed mycorrhizal associations faster (3.1-fold higher mycorrhization at week 4) and grew larger (29% greater leaf area by week 8) than control plants. Foliar applications of ANE also increased root colonization and arbuscular maturity, but did not appear to enhance plant growth. Nonetheless, following either foliar or drench application, M. truncatula genes associated with establishment of mycorrhizae were expressed at significantly higher levels compared to controls. These results suggest that ANE enhances mycorrhization through both direct stimulation of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus growth and through stimulation of the plant’s accommodation of the symbiont, together promoting the establishment of this agriculturally vital plant–microbe symbiosis.