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Tree Fungus Reduces Fertilizer Requirement for Ketchup Tomatoes

Tomatoes are an important and popular crop, but the tasty ketchup, salsa and pasta sauce they yield comes at a price: overuse of chemical fertilizers. Now, researchers report in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry they have recruited a fungus to bolster fertilizer efficiency, meaning tastier tomatoes can be grown with less fertilizer.

Tomato plants have a long growth period and need more nutrients -- particularly nitrogen and phosphorus-- than many other crops. Supplying these nutrients through a chemical fertilizer is inefficient, because the nutrients can leach away, evaporate or get trapped in insoluble compounds in the soil, among other problems. Some farmers react by overusing fertilizers to boost tomato yield, but this results in poor fruit quality, fertilizer waste, soil deterioration and environmental pollution. Another option is to apply microbes that free nitrogen and phosphorus from the soil for the crop to absorb, though this technique generally hasn't performed well in farm fields. However, Jianguo Huang and colleagues previously succeeded in using a fungus to enhance nutrient uptake and growth in field-raised eggplants. In their latest study, they wanted to find out if the microbe could work with ketchup tomato crops.

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