Although Ceriporia lacerata fungus causes tree wood to rot, it also has a good side. According to a new study, adding the fungus to agricultural soil allows tomatoes to be grown using much less fertilizer.

Partially because they have such a long growth period, tomato plants require more nutrients than many other crops. As a result, farmers typically apply large quantities of chemical fertilizer to their fields. Not only is this time-consuming and expensive, but it also reduces populations of beneficial microbes in the soil, plus it causes pollution as excess fertilizer runs out of the soil and into waterways. Additionally, even though chemical fertilizers may indeed boost tomato yields, they often reduce fruit quality.

Led by Jianguo Huang, scientists at China’s Southwest University instead looked to a specific strain of the Ceriporia fungus which is harmless to tomatoes.

Ordinarily, when growing on trees and when present in the soil, it emits enzymes such as proteases and phosphatases to obtain nutrients from the immediate environment. In the course of doing so, it frees up nutrients – including those previously delivered in fertilizer – which would otherwise have remained “locked up” within naturally occurring compounds in the soil. Those nutrients can then be taken up by plants.

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New Functions of Ceriporia lacerata HG2011: Mobilization of Soil Nitrogen and Phosphorus and Enhancement of Yield and Quality of Ketchup-Processing Tomato. Jie Yin, Ling Yuan, and Jianguo Huang
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.0c06783