The microbial community would provide fundamental support in obtaining nutrients, root development and access to water during the short life of the guanaco leg, one of the most emblematic flowers of the flowering desert.
The Atacama Desert attracts many visitors for its flowers, which dye the driest desert in the world with different colors. Under this flowery mantle, surprising phenomena also occur for the scientific world and for this reason, the Applied Microbiology Laboratory of the CEAZA Scientific Center traveled to the Caldera area in the Atacama Region to develop a sampling that has been carried out since the year 2015, when the previous blooming desert occurred.
Specifically, the group of scientists is interested in studying the microorganisms found in the roots and soil in which one of the most characteristic species of the flowery desert grows and which forms extensive fuchsia-colored mantles: the guanaco leg. (Cistanthe longiscapa).
Dr. Alexandra Stoll, leader of the CEAZA Applied Microbiology Laboratory (Center for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones) details that “the guanaco leg is an annual plant, its life cycle is very short, up to 3-4 months. In this period of time it develops from seed to flowering and then generates seeds, which remain in the soil until the next time abundant rainfall allows it to germinate and live another cycle”.
The ability of the guanaco leg to transform an environment with extreme conditions in such a short time raises many questions. From the CEAZA Scientific Center they have carried out research that suggests that the interaction between microorganisms and the plant would play an important role: it contributes to the acquisition of essential nutrients by the plant, including nitrogen and phosphorus. In addition, it encourages the development of roots, which allow access to water and nutrient sources, along with increasing its defenses against diseases.
The researcher also indicates that the plant is capable of selecting those microorganisms that are beneficial for its development.
“From microbiology it is very interesting to study how this plant, in such a short time of life, can modify the microbial community. The plant changes the presence of certain microorganisms and chooses those that bring benefits to its diet or help it survive in this place”, explains Dr. Stoll.
In the previous flowering desert event that occurred in 2015, the CEAZA Microbiology Laboratory carried out a first study to understand the relationship between the guanaco leg and its microbial community. "Now, seven years have passed without much rainfall and we return to the same place now with a flowery desert since we are interested in studying whether the community of microorganisms that we currently find in the root of the plant is similar to that community that we studied seven years ago. back,” says Dr. Stoll.
Juan Pablo Araya, doctoral student at CEAZA's Applied Microbiology Laboratory explains that "our interest is focused on those microorganisms that have the capacity to enhance plants in their growth, development and adaptation to certain types of environment and this is a very particular, where with a pulse of water these plants have to flourish in order to leave offspring and seeds for the coming years. In this sense, as a Microbiology Laboratory we have discovered that many of these microorganisms have the ability to enhance plant growth through different mechanisms”.
It should be noted that scientists Alexandra Stoll and Juan Pablo Araya are authors of the scientific publication "Microbiome Dynamics Associated With the Atacama Flowering Desert" that analyzes the relationship between the guanaco leg and its surrounding microbial community.
The importance of studying microorganisms
The study of microorganisms that live in the soil and in plants can play a fundamental role in developing agricultural crops that are friendlier to the environment and human health, as well as for crops to adapt to water scarcity. It is for this reason that the Microbiology Laboratory of the CEAZA Scientific Center works to investigate those microorganisms that contribute to crop yields and, at the same time, reduce the use of agrochemicals.
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