Scientists reveal that ammonium is beneficial for pine root growth

Researchers from the University of Malaga (UM) conducted a study investigating the benefits of ammonium, one of which being the development of a specific conifer—pine.

How do conifers impact ecosystems?

In ecological terms, coniferous plants represent the biggest global carbon sink, and play a crucial part in the pollination of the ecosystems, as they grow and help improve agricultural production.

Additionally, conifers are also important from an economic standpoint, as they are the main source of raw material for wood industries.

What are the advantages of ammonium?

A collaborative research team from the lab of ‘Biotechnology and Molecular Biology,’ and ‘Integrative Molecular Biology,’ at UM conducted a shared study investigating the impact of ammonium on pine root growth.  

Ammonium is one of the most abundant forms of inorganic nitrogen available in soils, and it has been discovered that it aids the growth of pine roots. “An appropriate development of roots enables the establishment and proper growth of plants, which is essential for crop production,” explained Rafael A. Cañas, leader of this study.

Thus, this study has revealed that although excessive amounts of ammonium can cause toxicity in most plants, scientists have observed that the lack of adverse side effects means that conifers have a higher tolerance to the substance.

“This finding is highly important, since it is a first step to discover new molecular mechanisms involved in the presence of ammonium, which will enable higher crop production with a more effective and resilient root system,” commented a researcher from the UMA Francisco Ortigosa team.

What techniques were utilised during the study?

Scientists employed numerous state of the art techniques that were essential for research, including tissue isolation by laser capture microdissection, which allowed them to identify several regulators of root growth and architecture.

Furthermore, in collaboration with Professor Shu Taira of Fukushima University, Japan, the researchers adopted a technique of mass spectrometry to determine how ammonium impacts the distribution of phytohormones in the growth areas of pine roots.

How will this information be adapted for future application?

The scientists at UM propose that ammonium will be the best source of nitrogen in the future. In order to make this a reality, further collaborative investigations will be conducted to analyse results with other plant species’ that have a higher sensitivity to ammonium nutrition and great agronomic value.

This will allow eligible genes to be identified and employed as biotechnological tools to obtain new crop varieties, which is better adapted both in avoiding soil erosion and the current atmospheric CO2 increase, thus ensuring successful agricultural production.

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