Nutrients or poison?

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Rapeseed needs a particularly large amount of boron to be able to grow well. Ima
Rapeseed needs a particularly large amount of boron to be able to grow well. Image: Gerd Patrick Bienert / TUM
TUM@Freising: Lecture on the importance of boron, arsenic and other semimetals for agriculture

The semimetal boron is an essential microelement for plants. It is responsible for the strength of plant cell walls and a variety of transport processes, for example of water and growth hormones within the plant. How a boron deficiency affects plants and how such a deficiency can be prevented to improve yield will be explained by Gerd Patrick Bienert, Professor of Crop physiology at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in an online lecture in the TUM@Freising lecture series on Tuesday March 22, 2022.

Boron is an essential micronutrient for plants. Especially sugar beets, rapeseed, and corn need a great deal of it. A well-functioning energy metabolism, flower fertility, root growth, and high stress tolerance in crops all depend on a sufficient supply of boron. When plants are not supplied with enough of it, they become at risk of heart rot or dry rot as well as severe functional impairment of their root systems. As a result, fruit formation and yields decline significantly.

Boron deficiency leads to yield losses in agricultural crop production despite the use of modern fertilization methods and the reason for that is climate.

"The experience of recent years confirms that winters with high precipitation are often followed by prolonged dry period in spring. This weather sequence makes the acquisition of water and nutrients difficult for plants such as winter rapeseed, corn, and sugar beets with potentially serious consequences for yield," explains Professor Gerd Patrick Bienert.

Mobile nutrients such as boron, but also nitrate and sulfate, are often washed away by precipitous winter weather and can no longer reach the plant roots during the subsequent dry periods due to the lack of soil water flow. The resulting boron deficiency causes roots to grow more slowly and destroys the guiding tissue that distributes water and nutrients within the plant. This starts a downward spiral: the roots take up too little water, and due to the damaged guiding tissue, the water that is taken up is not distributed well within the plant.

The aim of Prof. Bienert’s research at the TUM School of Life Sciences is, therefore, to better understand the genetic and molecular basis as well as the control mechanisms involved in the plant boron balance.

In his public lecture, Professor Bienert will also discuss how these finding can be used in the future to selectively breed varieties that cope with water scarcity or drought stress better and thereby achieve higher yields.

After the online lecture live via Zoom (Launch Meeting - Zoom, password:676703 ) all interested parties are both invited and encouraged to put their questions to the speaker using the chat function of Zoom. The Question and Answer session will be moderated by Philipp Benz, Professor of Fungal Biotechnology in Wood Science.