Microbiome swapping is the new and "natural" alternative to GMOs

Thursday, September 06, 2012 by: Eric Hunter
Tags: microbiome swapping, alternative, GMOs

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(NaturalNews) Our knowledge on the Human Microbiome has skyrocketed the last couple of years, and we now know that humans host more than 10,000 different microbial species. Most of these microorganisms are located in the gastrointestinal tract and have a huge impact on human health. However, humans and animals aren't the only species that have a symbiotic relationship with various microbes, and plant microbiologists have discovered that plants also have a unique microbiome. Altering these microbiomes shows potential as an alternative to certain genetically modified organisms. (GMOs)

In 2002, plant microbiologists looked at the microorganisms associated with a grass (Dichanthelium lanuginosum) growing in The Lassen Volcanic and Yellowstone National Park. Several microbial species were isolated from the roots, crowns, leaves and seed coats of the plants they collected.
The researchers discovered that when they removed all of the microbes by sterilizing the seeds before planting, the grass wouldn't grow in the same temperatures as "intact" seeds with a normal microbiome.

Building on these earlier discoveries, the microbiologists continued their research on the plant microbiome, and in 2008 they began swapping microorganisms between plants in an attempt to influence host fitness. They collected fungus and bacteria from weeds growing in extreme environments and covered sterilized wheat seeds with the flora collected.

Wheat seeds usually grow at 100 degrees fahrenheit, but microbiome swapping revealed some very interesting results; the wheat seeds covered with new microorganisms were able to grow in an extreme environment near hot springs. Not only did the treated seeds survive the very high temperatures, but they needed significantly less water than normal. Other studies also support the link between the plant microbiome and the ability of the plant to survive under various conditions.

Symbiotic relationship

The human gut flora influences development, weight gain, food intolerance, mental health, inflammation and disease, and probiotics, prebiotics and fecal transplants are very effective for a variety of health conditions. Just like humans, plants seem to be dependent on the microbes that live inside them and are clinging to the seeds and leaves.

Alternative to GMOs

Seeds are genetically modified to allow the plants to survive in various conditions, increase crop yields and provide pest and herbicide resistance. GMO supporters often claim that GM crops are necessary to supply the entire world with an adequate food supply, and large corporations such as Monsanto have billions invested in GMOs.

The use of GMOs is against nature, and the health concerns and ethical questions surrounding GMOs are many. Many demographers estimate that the increasing world population will slowly level off and eventually hit the ceiling; thereby challenging the belief that GMOs are necessary to feed the world.

Microbiome swapping can provide an alternative to genetically modified seeds, and especially the ones that are produced for better drought resistance. By swapping the microbiome, it's possible to change the survivability of the plant in various environments and also influence how much water the plant needs to grow.

Is microbiome swapping any better than GMOs?

Although human interference with mother nature is rarely a good idea; microbiome swapping does at least provide a more "natural" and less comprehensive method than genetic modifications.

Swapping microbiomes between seeds and plants doesn't only include some tiny micobes, but also the genes of these microorganisms. Since all plants are so dependent on their symbiotic flora, these genes can almost be considered a part of the plant.

However, humans, plants and animals routinely come in contact with new microorganisms from the environment, and swapping microbiome's between plants isn't that different from the natural changes in the ecosystem around us.

Microbiome swapping is a very interesting strategy that demands for more research and critical questions. If the alternative is GMOs, most people will probably welcome microbiome swapping as a much better solution; but maybe it's just best to leave the nature alone altogether?

Sources for this article include

O. Petrini, in Microbiology of the Phyllosphere, N. J. Fokkema, J. van den Heuvel, Eds. (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1986), pp. 175-187.

Redman RS, Kim YO, Woodward CJ, et al. Increased fitness of rice plants to abiotic stress via habitat adapted symbiosis: a strategy for mitigating impacts of climate change.
PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e14823. Epub 2011 Jul 5.

Redman RS, Sheehan KB, Stout RG, et al. Thermotolerance generated by plant/fungal symbiosis.
Science. 2002 Nov 22;298(5598):1581.

Rodriguez RJ, Henson J, Van Volkenburgh E, et al. Stress tolerance in plants via habitat-adapted symbiosis.
ISME J. 2008 Apr;2(4):404-16. Epub 2008 Feb 7.

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