Special Issue "Toward a Sustainable Agriculture Through Plant Biostimulants: From Experimental Data to Practical Applications"

A special issue of Agronomy (ISSN 2073-4395). This special issue belongs to the section "Horticultural and Floricultural Crops".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (16 March 2020).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Youssef Rouphael
Website
Guest Editor
Department of Agricultural Sciences, University of Naples, Federico II, Portici, Italy
Interests: greenhouse crops; vegetables production; hydroponics and aquaponics; plant nutrition; microgreens; sprouts; edible flowers; functional foods, grafting; microbial and non-microbial biostimulants; biofortification; vegetable quality related to preharvest factors; LED; urban agriculture; organic farming
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Prof. Dr. Giuseppe Colla
Website
Guest Editor
Department of Agriculture and Forest Sciences, University of Tuscia, 01100 Viterbo, Italy
Interests: microgreens; sprouts; functional food; crop production; plant nutrition; fertilizers; organic farming; organic agriculture; nutrient management; biofertilizers; vegetable production; fruit quality; fertigation; hydroponics; vegetable crops; biofortification
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Over the past decade, interest in plant biostimulants has been on the rise, compelled by the growing interest of researchers, extension specialists, private industries, and farmers in integrating these products in the array of environmentally-friendly tools that secure improved crop performance, nutrient efficiency, product quality, and yield stability. Plant biostimulants entails include diverse organic and inorganic substances, natural compounds, and/or beneficial microorganisms such as humic acids, protein hydrolysates, seaweed and plant extracts, silicon, endophytic fungi like mycorrhizal fungi, and plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria belonging to the genera Azospirillum, Azotobacter, and Rhizobium spp. Other substances (e.g., chitosan and other biopolymers and inorganic compounds) can have biostimulant properties, but their classification within the group of biostimulants is still under consideration. Plant biostimulants are usually applied to high-value crops, mainly greenhouse crops, fruit trees and vines, open-field crops, flowers, and ornamentals to sustainably increase yield and product quality. The global biostimulant market is currently estimated at about $2.0 billion, expected to reach $3.0 billion by 2021 at an annual growth rate of 13%. A growing interest on plant biostimulants from industries and scientists was demonstrated by the high number of published peer-reviewed articles, conferences, workshops, and symposiums in the past ten years.

This Special issue invites original research, technology report, methods, opinion, perspectives, and invited reviews and mini reviews dissecting the biostimulation action of these natural compounds and substances and beneficial microorganisms on crops grown under optimal and sub-optimal growing conditions (e.g., salinity, drought, nutrient deficiency and toxicity, heavy metal contaminations, waterlogging, and adverse soil pH conditions). Also of interest are potential contributions dealing with the effect as well as the molecular and physiological mechanisms of plant biostimulants on nutrient efficiency, product quality and the modulation of the microbial population quantitatively and qualitatively. In addition, identification and understanding of the optimal method, time, rate of application and phenological stage for improving plant performance and resilience to stress as well as the best plant species/cultivar × environment × management practices combinations will be considered within the general scope of the Special Issue. We highly believe that this compilation of high standard scientific papers on principles and practices of plant biostimulants will foster knowledge transfer among scientific communities, industries, and agronomists, and will enable a better understanding of the mode of action and application procedure of biostimulants in different cropping systems.

Prof. Youssef Rouphael
Prof. Giuseppe Colla
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Agronomy is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1600 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • humic acids
  • microbial inoculants
  • PGPR
  • nitrogen-fixing bacteria
  • mycorrhizal fungi
  • microbiome
  • protein hydrolysate
  • silicon
  • physiological and molecular mechanisms
  • seaweed extracts
  • inorganic compounds
  • agronomical and horticultural crops
  • abiotic stressors
  • NUE

Published Papers (40 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Toward a Sustainable Agriculture Through Plant Biostimulants: From Experimental Data to Practical Applications
Agronomy 2020, 10(10), 1461; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10101461 - 24 Sep 2020
Abstract
Modern agriculture increasingly demands an alternative to synthetic chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides) in order to respond to the changes in international law and regulations, but also consumers’ needs for food without potentially toxic residues. Microbial (arbuscular mycorrhizal and plant growth promoting rhizobacteria: Azotobacter [...] Read more.
Modern agriculture increasingly demands an alternative to synthetic chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides) in order to respond to the changes in international law and regulations, but also consumers’ needs for food without potentially toxic residues. Microbial (arbuscular mycorrhizal and plant growth promoting rhizobacteria: Azotobacter, Azospirillum and Rizhobium spp.) and non-microbial (humic substances, silicon, animal- and vegetal-based protein hydrolysate and macro- and micro-algal extracts) biostimulants represent a sustainable and effective alternative or complement for their synthetic counterparts, bringing benefits to the environment, biodiversity, human health and economy. The Special Issue “Toward a sustainable agriculture through plant biostimulants: from experimental data to practical applications” compiles 34 original research articles, 4 review papers and 1 brief report covering the implications of microbial and non-microbial biostimulants for improving seedling growth and crop performance, nutrient use efficiency and quality of the produce as well as enhancing the tolerance/resistance to a wide range of abiotic stresses in particular salinity, drought, nutrient deficiency and high temperature. The present compilation of high standard scientific papers on principles and practices of plant biostimulants will foster knowledge transfer among researchers, fertilizer and biostimulant industries, stakeholders, extension specialists and farmers, and it will enable a better understanding of the physiological and molecular mechanisms and application procedure of biostimulants in different cropping systems. Full article

Research

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Open AccessArticle
Fermented Alfalfa Brown Juice Significantly Stimulates the Growth and Development of Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) Plants
Agronomy 2020, 10(5), 657; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10050657 - 07 May 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Fertilization management is a key issue in plant nutrition to produce plants with good quality and quantity. Deproteinized leaf juice or brown juice (BJ) is a by-product during the isolation of leaf protein from biomass crops such as alfalfa. The idea of using [...] Read more.
Fertilization management is a key issue in plant nutrition to produce plants with good quality and quantity. Deproteinized leaf juice or brown juice (BJ) is a by-product during the isolation of leaf protein from biomass crops such as alfalfa. The idea of using BJ as a biostimulant fits well in the aspect of circular economy since BJ is currently a problematic issue of the leaf protein production approach. Fractionation of one-kilogram fresh biomass results in approximately 500 cm3 BJ. Due to fast spoil of fresh BJ, if left on room temperature, it is found that fermentation of fresh BJ using lactic acid bacteria and reducing its pH increases its stability and storage on room temperature. In the present study, we examined the effect of fermented alfalfa BJ on vegetative, physiological, and anatomical properties of the versatile sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum L. ‘Bíborfelhő’) plants. Sweet basil seedlings were sprayed at different doses of fermented alfalfa BJ (i.e., 0.5%, 1.0%, and 2.5%) and tap water served as a control (0.0% BJ). The results revealed that foliar application of fermented alfalfa BJ significantly improved the biometrical features of sweet basil plants. Plants treated with fermented BJ showed significantly higher values of all the measured parameters compared to the control (0.0%), except for the number of leaves per plants where control plants (0.0%) had more leaves. However, the leaves of control plants (0.0%) were smaller than treated plants as data of leaf area showed. Fermented alfalfa BJ significantly increased the content of photosynthetic pigments (chl a and chl b), relative chlorophyll (SPAD value), lengths of stem and root, fresh masses of stem, root, and leaves, volumes of stem and root, and leaf area. Despite all rates of fermented BJ displayed higher values over control plants (0.0%), the rate of 0.5% was the best one supported by results. Application of fermented alfalfa BJ influenced the anatomical parameters as well. These findings demonstrate the possible use of fermented alfalfa BJ as a promising novel plant biostimulant. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Response of Soil Bacterial Community and Pepper Plant Growth to Application of Bacillus thuringiensis KNU-07
Agronomy 2020, 10(4), 551; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10040551 - 10 Apr 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Many Bacillus species are among the plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) that promote the growth of many different plant species. This study aimed to investigate the effects of Bacillus thuringiensis KNU-07 on the growth of pepper plants and the soil microbiota. We also designed [...] Read more.
Many Bacillus species are among the plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) that promote the growth of many different plant species. This study aimed to investigate the effects of Bacillus thuringiensis KNU-07 on the growth of pepper plants and the soil microbiota. We also designed primers specific for the strain KNU-07 to monitor the population in pepper-cultivated soil. Accordingly, a strain-specific primer pair was designed using a database constructed from 16,160 complete bacterial genomes. We employed quantitative PCR (qPCR) to track the abundance of the strain KNU-07 introduced into pepper-cultivated soil using the strain-specific primers. Our study revealed that the strain was found to possess plant growth-promoting (PGP) activities, and it promoted the growth of pepper plants. The soil bacterial community structure due to the application of the PGPR strain was significantly changed after six weeks post-inoculation. In addition, based on qPCR analysis, the population of the introduced strain declined over time. In this study, application of a PGPR strain increased the growth of pepper plants and changed the soil bacterial community structure. The successful results of monitoring of a bacterial strain’s population using a single strain-specific primer pair can provide important information about the quantification of bio-inoculants under non-sterile soil conditions. Full article
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Open AccessEditor’s ChoiceArticle
Appraisal of Biodegradable Mulching Films and Vegetal-Derived Biostimulant Application as Eco-Sustainable Practices for Enhancing Lettuce Crop Performance and Nutritive Value
Agronomy 2020, 10(3), 427; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10030427 - 20 Mar 2020
Cited by 4
Abstract
Scientists, extensions specialists, and growers are seeking sustainable agricultural practices that are able to cope with these objectives in order to ensure global food security and minimize environmental damage. The use of mulching films and plant biostimulants in agriculture seems to be a [...] Read more.
Scientists, extensions specialists, and growers are seeking sustainable agricultural practices that are able to cope with these objectives in order to ensure global food security and minimize environmental damage. The use of mulching films and plant biostimulants in agriculture seems to be a valid solution for tackling these rising concerns. A greenhouse experiment was conducted in order to elucidate the morpho-physiological and nutritive characteristics of lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) in response to foliar application of a tropical plant extract (PE) biostimulant and the use of plastic mulches. Two biodegradable mulch treatments (Mater-Bi® 1 and Mater-Bi® 2) were compared to black polyethylene (LDPE) and bare soil. Biodegradable mulch film Mater-Bi® 1 produced a comparable marketable fresh yield to the commercial standard polyethylene (LDPE), whereas Mater-Bi® 2 exhibited the highest crop productivity. When averaged over biostimulant application, lettuce plants grown with biodegradable film Mater-Bi® 2 exhibited superior quality traits in terms of K, Ca, total ascorbic acid, and carotenoids content. The combination of film mulching (LDPE, Mater-Bi® 1 or Mater-Bi® 2) with the tropical plant extract biostimulant exhibited a positive and significant synergistic effect (+30%) on yield. The PE-biostimulant induced higher values of SPAD index and total chlorophyll content when compared to untreated greenhouse lettuce. The mineral content of leaf tissues was greater by 10% and 17% (for P and Ca, respectively) when compared to the untreated lettuce (no PE application). Nitrate content was significantly reduced by 23% in greenhouse lettuce plants receiving PE as compared to the untreated control. The positive effect of Mater-Bi® 2 film on the ascorbic acid content has also been highlighted when combined with the biostimulant application, where a major amplification of total ascorbic acid (+168%) was recorded in comparison to the untreated lettuce. Overall, our work can assist leafy vegetables growers in adopting good agricultural practices, such as biodegradable plastic mulches and vegetal-derived biostimulants, to improve the sustainability of greenhouse production. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Effect of Pterocladia capillacea Seaweed Extracts on Growth Parameters and Biochemical Constituents of Jew’s Mallow
Agronomy 2020, 10(3), 420; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10030420 - 19 Mar 2020
Cited by 3
Abstract
We performed field experiments to evaluate the influence of two extraction treatments, seaweed (Pterocladia capillacea S.G. Gmelin) water extraction (WE) and ultrasound-assisted water extraction (USWE) at three concentrations (5%, 10%, and 15%), as well as control NPK traditional mineral fertilizer on the [...] Read more.
We performed field experiments to evaluate the influence of two extraction treatments, seaweed (Pterocladia capillacea S.G. Gmelin) water extraction (WE) and ultrasound-assisted water extraction (USWE) at three concentrations (5%, 10%, and 15%), as well as control NPK traditional mineral fertilizer on the growth, yield, minerals, and antioxidants of Jew’s Mallow (Corchorus olitorius L.) during the two seasons of 2016 and 2017 in Egypt. Plant height, number of leaves, and fresh weight of WE10 treatment were the highest (p < 0.05) as 59.67 cm, 10.67 and 2.41 kg m−2 in 2016, respectively, and 57.33 cm, 11.00 and 2.32 kg m−2 in 2017, respectively. WE10 and USWE5 treatments produced the highest dry matter (17.07%) in 2016 and (16.97%) in 2017, respectively. WE10 plants had an increased water productivity of 41.2% relative to control plants in both seasons. The highest chlorophyll ‘a’ was recorded after the WE10 treatment in 2016 and 2017 (17.79 μg g−1 and 17.84 μg g−1, respectively). The highest levels of total antioxidant capacity, total phenolics, and total flavonoids were also recorded after the WE10 treatment. Application of WE10 boosted growth, yield, minerals, and antioxidants of Jew’s Mallow. The CROPWAT model was used to estimate the evapotranspiration, irrigation water requirements, and yield response to irrigation scheduling. Our data showed a yield reduction in the initial growth stage if a limited amount of water was provided. Therefore, irrigation water should be provided during the most important stages of crop development with the choice of effective irrigation practices to avoid water losses, as this helps to maximize yield. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Changes in Assimilation Area and Chlorophyll Content of Very Early Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) Cultivars as Influenced by Biostimulants
Agronomy 2020, 10(3), 387; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10030387 - 12 Mar 2020
Cited by 5
Abstract
This paper analyses the effects of foliar application of the seaweed extracts Bio-algeen S90 (Ascophyllum nodosum) and Kelpak SL (Ecklonia maxima), as well as the humic and fulvic acids ini HumiPlant (leonardite extract), on the assimilation area and chlorophyll [...] Read more.
This paper analyses the effects of foliar application of the seaweed extracts Bio-algeen S90 (Ascophyllum nodosum) and Kelpak SL (Ecklonia maxima), as well as the humic and fulvic acids ini HumiPlant (leonardite extract), on the assimilation area and chlorophyll content of very early potato cultivars (‘Denar’, ‘Lord’, Miłek’). The field experiment was carried out in central-eastern Poland over three growing seasons, using Luvisol. The biostimulants were applied according to the manufacturers’ recommendations. The use of biostimulants resulted in enlargement of the assimilation area, but had no effect on the specific leaf area (SLA) or chlorophyll content (Soil Plant Analysis Development (SPAD) value). The assimilation area was larger, on average, by 0.0505 m2 and leaf area index (LAI) was higher by 0.30 compared with the plants from the control group without a biostimulant. The SLA and SPAD depend on the cultivar and weather conditions, or nitrogen and magnesium content in soil, to a greater extent. The biostimulants enhanced abiotic stress tolerance and increased marketable tuber yield (diameter above 30 mm) 75 days after planting (the end of June), on average by 2.15 t·ha−1. Bio-algeen S90 and Keplak SL produced better results in a warm and very wet growing season, whereas HumiPlant produced better results in a year with lower air temperature and with drought periods during potato growth. No correlations were found between the tuber yield and assimilation area or between the tuber yield and SPAD value, although a significant negative correlation was found between the tuber yield and SLA. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Use of a Plant-Based Biostimulant Improves Plant Performances and Fruit Quality in Tomato Plants Grown at Elevated Temperatures
Agronomy 2020, 10(3), 363; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10030363 - 06 Mar 2020
Cited by 5
Abstract
Abiotic stresses can cause a substantial decline in fruit quality due to negative impacts on plant growth, physiology and reproduction. The objective of this study was to verify if the use of a biostimulant based on plant and yeast extracts, rich in amino [...] Read more.
Abiotic stresses can cause a substantial decline in fruit quality due to negative impacts on plant growth, physiology and reproduction. The objective of this study was to verify if the use of a biostimulant based on plant and yeast extracts, rich in amino acids and that contains microelements (boron, zinc and manganese) can ensure good crop yield and quality in tomato plants grown at elevated temperatures (up to 42 °C). We investigated physiological responses of four different tomato landraces that were cultivated under plastic tunnel and treated with the biostimulant CycoFlow. The application of the biostimulant stimulated growth (plants up to 48.5% taller) and number of fruits (up to 105.3%). In plants treated with the biostimulant, antioxidants contents were higher compared to non-treated plants, both in leaves and in fruits. In particular, the content of ascorbic acid increased after treatments with CycoFlow. For almost all the traits studied, the effect of the biostimulant depended on the genotype it was applied on. Altogether, the use of the biostimulant on tomato plants led to better plant performances at elevated temperatures, that could be attributed also to a stronger antioxidant defence system, and to a better fruit nutritional quality. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Nitrogen Use and Uptake Efficiency and Crop Performance of Baby Spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) and Lamb’s Lettuce (Valerianella locusta L.) Grown under Variable Sub-Optimal N Regimes Combined with Plant-Based Biostimulant Application
Agronomy 2020, 10(2), 278; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10020278 - 15 Feb 2020
Cited by 4
Abstract
An optimized nitrogen (N) fertilization may have a positive effect on leafy vegetables by increasing growth, yield and nutrient content of plants. Nevertheless, crop performance must be coupled with an increase in Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) in order to limit external N inputs [...] Read more.
An optimized nitrogen (N) fertilization may have a positive effect on leafy vegetables by increasing growth, yield and nutrient content of plants. Nevertheless, crop performance must be coupled with an increase in Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) in order to limit external N inputs and to avoid N surpluses associated with environmental and health problems. The aim of the current study was to assess the effects of a legume-derived plant hydrolysates (LDPH; Trainer®) and N fertilization levels (0, 2.25 and 4.5 g N m−2 for spinach and 0, 2.5 and 5.0 g N m−2 for lamb’s lettuce; N0%, N50%, N100%, respectively) on agronomical, biochemical, qualitative responses and NUE of these two important greenhouse leafy vegetables. Spinach and lamb’s lettuce were sprayed four times during the growing period (at a concentration of 4 mL L−1 of LDPH). In baby spinach, the LDPH application elicited a significant increase at the three levels of N fertilization: +16.8%, +14.2%, and 39.4% at 0, 2.25 and 4.5 g N m−2, respectively. Interestingly, in lamb’s lettuce, the N50% plants treated with LDPH reached similar values of marketable yield in comparison to treated and non-treated plants under N100% conditions. The presumed mechanism involved in the enhancement of yield response in the two leafy greens could be associated to a better activity of the photosystem II (higher SPAD index), biochemical (higher content of chlorophyll a, b and total) and leaf nitrate status. The foliar application of LDPH produced a major fortification in lipophilic and hydrophilic antioxidant activities (+11.6 and 6.3% for spinach and lamb’s lettuce, respectively). The biostimulant application also improved N-use efficiency and N-uptake efficiency compared to untreated plants: +17.8% and +18.8%, and +50% and +73.3%, for spinach and lamb’s lettuce, respectively. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Chemical Traits of Fermented Alfalfa Brown Juice: Its Implications on Physiological, Biochemical, Anatomical, and Growth Parameters of Celosia
Agronomy 2020, 10(2), 247; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10020247 - 07 Feb 2020
Cited by 3
Abstract
Brown juice is a byproduct of fractionated green biomass during leaf protein isolation. It represents approximately 45%–50% of the total pressed fresh biomass. Disposal of brown juice is a serious issue in leaf protein production due to its high biological oxygen demand and [...] Read more.
Brown juice is a byproduct of fractionated green biomass during leaf protein isolation. It represents approximately 45%–50% of the total pressed fresh biomass. Disposal of brown juice is a serious issue in leaf protein production due to its high biological oxygen demand and carbohydrates content. The current study aimed to find a possible potential use of brown juice. Therefore, chemical and biochemical properties of brown juice—derived from alfalfa green biomass—were determined before and after fermentation by lactic acid bacteria. Additionally, the growth stimulation potential of fermented brown juice on plumed cockscomb (Celosia argantea var. plumose ‘Arrabona’) plants were tested. Celosia seedlings were sprayed at different rates of fermented brown juice (i.e., 0.5%, 1%, 2.5%, 5%, and 10%) and tap water was applied as control. The results revealed that lactic acid bacteria successfully enhanced the stabilization of brown juice via reducing sugars content and increasing organic acids content. After fermentation, contents of glucose monomers were 15 times lower; while concentrations of lactic and acetic acids increased by 7- and 10-fold, respectively. This caused a reduction in the pH of fermented brown juice by 13.9%. Treating Celosia plants at lower rates of fermented brown juice (up to 1.0%) significantly induced their growth dynamics and antioxidant capacity. Higher values of vegetative parameters were measured in treated plants compared to control. The brown juice treatments caused significant changes in histological parameters as well. The activity of catalase and peroxidase increased in plants that received fermented brown juice especially at low rates. Moreover, an increase in water-soluble protein and phenol was measured in different tissues of plants sprayed with fermented brown juice. Malondialdehyde content was lowered in treated plants compared to control. Fermented brown juice at high rates slightly reduced the amount of photosynthetic pigments; however, this reduction was not reported for low rates of fermented brown juice. These results surely illustrate the potential use of fermented alfalfa brown juice as a growth stimulator for crops particularly at rates below 2.5%. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
A Composite Bioinoculant Based on the Combined Application of Beneficial Bacteria and Fungi
Agronomy 2020, 10(2), 220; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10020220 - 03 Feb 2020
Cited by 2
Abstract
A composite soil bioinoculant containing beneficial bacteria and fungi was developed for biocontrol of plant pathogens, phosphorous mobilization, stem degradation, humification, and nitrogen fixation. A Trichoderma asperellum isolate with outstanding in vitro antagonistic abilities toward a series of plant pathogenic fungi was included [...] Read more.
A composite soil bioinoculant containing beneficial bacteria and fungi was developed for biocontrol of plant pathogens, phosphorous mobilization, stem degradation, humification, and nitrogen fixation. A Trichoderma asperellum isolate with outstanding in vitro antagonistic abilities toward a series of plant pathogenic fungi was included as a potential biocontrol component. The selected strain was also shown to promote growth and increase photosynthetic activity of tomato plants. For phosphorous mobilization and stem degradation, a Trichoderma atrobrunneum strain was selected, which produced cellulose-degrading enzymes even in the absence of stem residues, while this ability increased 10–15-fold in the presence of ground maize stem. The strain was also shown to produce large amounts of enzymes liberating organically bound phosphorous, as well as cellulase and xylanase activities in solid-state fermentation on various plant residues. A Streptomyces albus strain with excellent peroxidase-producing abilities was selected as a potential humus-producing component, while an Azotobacter vinelandii strain with the potential to provide excess nitrogen for crops was included for nitrogen fixation. The assembled soil bioinoculant had positive effect on the uptake of certain important macro- and microelements (potassium, sodium, and manganese) from the soil by field-grown tomato plants. The applied screening strategy proved to be applicable for the assembly of a composite soil bioinoculant with notable application potentials. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Appraisal of Combined Applications of Trichoderma virens and a Biopolymer-Based Biostimulant on Lettuce Agronomical, Physiological, and Qualitative Properties under Variable N Regimes
Agronomy 2020, 10(2), 196; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10020196 - 01 Feb 2020
Cited by 8
Abstract
The current research elucidated the agronomical, physiological, qualitative characteristics and mineral composition of lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. var. longifolia) after treatments with a beneficial fungus Trichoderma virens (TG41) alone or in combination with a vegetal biopolymer-based biostimulant (VBP; ‘Quik-link’). The experiment [...] Read more.
The current research elucidated the agronomical, physiological, qualitative characteristics and mineral composition of lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. var. longifolia) after treatments with a beneficial fungus Trichoderma virens (TG41) alone or in combination with a vegetal biopolymer-based biostimulant (VBP; ‘Quik-link’). The experiment consisted of lettuce plants grown in three N conditions: sub-optimal (0N kg ha−1), optimal (70N kg ha−1), and supra-optimal (140N kg ha−1) N levels. Lettuce grown under 0N fertilization showed a significant increase in fresh yield when inoculated with TG41 alone (45%) and a greater increase with TG41 + VBP biostimulant (67%). At 48 days after transplanting, both the TG41 alone or TG41+VBP biostimulant induced higher values of CO2 assimilation in comparison to the control. The mineral concentrations in leaf tissues were greater by 10% for K and 12% for Mg with the TG41+VBP treatments compared to the untreated lettuce. The lettuce plants receiving either TG41 alone or TG41+VBP biostimulants had a significantly lower nitrate content than any of the untreated controls. In non-fertilized conditions, plants treated with TG41+VBP biostimulants produced lettuce of higher premium quality as indicated by the higher antioxidant activity, total ascorbic acid (+61%–91%), total phenols (+14%) and lower nitrate content when compared to the untreated lettuce. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Changes in Biochemistry and Yield in Response to Biostimulants Applied in Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.)
Agronomy 2020, 10(2), 189; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10020189 - 31 Jan 2020
Cited by 4
Abstract
Biostimulants are preparations that favorably impact the growth, development, and yield of plants. The research objective was to examine the effect of the frequency of use of Kelpak, Terra Sorb Complex and Fylloton biostimulants on improving the yield and nutritional properties of beans. [...] Read more.
Biostimulants are preparations that favorably impact the growth, development, and yield of plants. The research objective was to examine the effect of the frequency of use of Kelpak, Terra Sorb Complex and Fylloton biostimulants on improving the yield and nutritional properties of beans. Been seeds (variety Oczko) were sown in the first week of May in 2015, 2016, and 2017. During the growing season, Fylloton (1%), Terra Sorb Complex (0.5%), and Kelpak (1%) biostimulants were applied by single (BBCH 12-13) and double spraying of plants (BBCH 12-13, BBCH 61). All variants of treatment with biostimulants were compared with the control. Single application of Kelpak had a positive effect on increasing the number of pods. The double application of Kelpak increased the number and yield of seeds and protein contents. Double application of Fylloton increased the number of seeds, and application of Terra Sorb Complex increased the protein content in the beans. Application of all biostimulants increased the flavonoid content. Biostimulants containing seaweed (Kelpak–Ecklonia maxima extract) or amino-acid extracts (Fylloton–Ascophyllum nodosum extract and amino acids or Terra Sorb Complex–amino acids) increased the seed yield, while improving its quality by increasing the content of protein, polyphenols, and flavonoids. It was found that the double application of Kelpak biostimulant stimulated the yield and quality of beans to a greater extent. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Biostimulants Application Alleviates Water Stress Effects on Yield and Chemical Composition of Greenhouse Green Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.)
Agronomy 2020, 10(2), 181; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10020181 - 27 Jan 2020
Cited by 7
Abstract
The increasing scarcity of water demands proper water management practices to ensure crop sustainability. In this study, the effect of drought stress and biostimulants application on the yield and chemical composition of green pods and seeds of common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) [...] Read more.
The increasing scarcity of water demands proper water management practices to ensure crop sustainability. In this study, the effect of drought stress and biostimulants application on the yield and chemical composition of green pods and seeds of common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) was evaluated. For this purpose, four commercially available biostimulant products, namely Nomoren (G), EKOprop (EK), Veramin Ca (V), and Twin-Antistress (TW), were tested under two irrigation regimes: normal irrigation (W+) and water-holding (W-) conditions. The highest increase (20.8%) of pods total yield was observed in EKW+ treatment due to the formation of more pods of bigger size compared to control treatment (CW+). In addition, the highest yield under drought stress conditions was recorded for the GW- treatment (5691 ± 139 kg/ha). Regarding the effects of biostimulants on the protein and ash content of pods, the application of VW+ treatment (first harvest of pods; 201 ± 1 and 79 ± 1 g/kg dw for proteins and ash content, respectively) and GW+ (second harvest of pods; 207.1 ± 0.1 and 68.4 ± 0.5 g/kg dw for proteins and ash content, respectively) showed the best results. For seeds, the application of GW+ treatment resulted in the highest content for fat, protein, and ash content (52.7 ± 0.1, 337 ± 1, 56 ± 1 g/kg dw) and energetic value (5474 ± 3 kcal/kg dw). γ-tocopherol was the main detected tocopherol in pods and seeds, and it was significantly increased by the application of TWW- (first harvest of pods; 6410 ± 40 μg/kg dw), VW- (second harvest of pods; 3500 ± 20 μg/kg dw), and VW+ (seeds; 39.8 ± 0.1 g/kg dw) treatments. EKW- treatment resulted in the lowest oxalic acid content for both pod harvests (26.3 ± 0.1 g/kg dw and 22.7 ± 0.2 g/kg dw for the first and second harvest of pods, respectively) when compared with the rest of the treatments where biostimulants were applied, although in all the cases, the oxalic acid content was considerably low. Fructose and sucrose were the main sugars detected in pods and seeds, respectively, while the highest content was recorded for the TWW- (first harvest of pods) and GW- (second harvest of pods and seeds) treatments. The main detected fatty acids in pods and seeds were α-linolenic, linoleic, and palmitic acid, with a variable effect of the tested treatments being observed. In conclusion, the application of biostimulants could be considered as an eco-friendly and sustainable means to increase the pod yield and the quality of common bean green pods and seeds under normal irrigation conditions. Promising results were also recorded regarding the alleviation of negative effects of drought stress, especially for the application of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF; G treatment), which increased the total yield of green pods. Moreover, the nutritional value and chemical composition of pods and seeds was positively affected by biostimulants application, although a product specific effect was recorded depending on the irrigation regime and harvesting time (pods and seeds). Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Effects of Different Microbial Inocula on Tomato Tolerance to Water Deficit
Agronomy 2020, 10(2), 170; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10020170 - 24 Jan 2020
Cited by 3
Abstract
Several recent reports have highlighted some of the mechanisms involved in the enhanced tolerance to abiotic stresses induced by root-associated microorganisms, although additional efforts are still required to exploit and optimize these strategies. Particularly, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) play an important role as [...] Read more.
Several recent reports have highlighted some of the mechanisms involved in the enhanced tolerance to abiotic stresses induced by root-associated microorganisms, although additional efforts are still required to exploit and optimize these strategies. Particularly, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) play an important role as “bio-fertilizing microorganisms”, establishing mutualistic symbioses with the roots of most crops. In this work, different microbial inocula (a single AMF species, a combination of three different AMF species, a combination of two plant growth-promoting bacteria (PGPB) strains and a more complex commercial inoculum) have been used to inoculate tomato plants (cv San Marzano nano), in order to verify their effects on the tolerance to a water deficit condition in pots, through the evaluation of biochemical stress markers and hormonal profiles (ABA and IAA). Results showed differences among tomato responses to water limitation depending on microbial inocula, confirming the importance to characterize the optimal plant/microorganism genotype combination(s) to maximize plant performance and tolerance. These findings open new perspectives for a better exploitation of these microorganisms. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Biostimulant Seed Coating Treatments to Improve Cover Crop Germination and Seedling Growth
Agronomy 2020, 10(2), 154; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10020154 - 22 Jan 2020
Cited by 3
Abstract
Biostimulant seed coating formulations were investigated in laboratory experiments for their potential to increase maximum germination, germination rate, germination uniformity, and seedling growth of red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) seeds. Red clover and perennial ryegrass [...] Read more.
Biostimulant seed coating formulations were investigated in laboratory experiments for their potential to increase maximum germination, germination rate, germination uniformity, and seedling growth of red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) seeds. Red clover and perennial ryegrass seeds were coated with different combinations of soy flour, diatomaceous earth, micronized vermicompost, and concentrated vermicompost extract. Coated and non-coated seeds of red clover and perennial ryegrass were evaluated for germination and growth after 7 and 10 days, respectively. Red clover seed was maintained at a constant 20 °C with a 16/8 h photoperiod, whereas for perennial ryegrass seed, the germinator was maintained at 15/25 °C, with the same photoperiod as red clover. Coated treatments significantly improved germination rate and uniformity with no reduction in total germination, compared to the non-treated controls in red clover. In contrast, for perennial ryegrass, the total germination percentage of all coated seeds was reduced and displayed a delayed germination rate, compared with the non-treated controls. Shoot length, seedling vigor index, and dry weight of seedlings of coated seed treatments of both crops were significantly higher when compared to controls for both species. In addition to growth metrics, specific surface mechanical properties related to seed coating quality of seeds of both species were evaluated. Increasing the proportion of soy flour as a seed treatment binder in the coating blend increased the integrity and compressive strength of coated seeds, and the time for coatings to disintegrate. These data show that seed coating technologies incorporating nutritional materials and biostimulants can enhance seedling growth and have the potential to facilitate the establishment of cover crops in agriculture and land reclamation. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Influence of Bio-Stimulants and Foliar Fertilizers on Yield, Plant Features, and the Level of Soil Biochemical Activity in White Lupine (Lupinus albus L.) Cultivation
Agronomy 2020, 10(1), 150; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10010150 - 20 Jan 2020
Cited by 3
Abstract
The aim of this study is to assess the effect of two biostimulators (Titanit, Rooter) and six foliar fertilizers (Optysil, Metalosate Potassium, Bolero Bo, ADOB 2.0 Zn IDHA, ADOB B, ADOB 2.0 Mo) on white lupine. In addition, we evaluated the enzymatic activity [...] Read more.
The aim of this study is to assess the effect of two biostimulators (Titanit, Rooter) and six foliar fertilizers (Optysil, Metalosate Potassium, Bolero Bo, ADOB 2.0 Zn IDHA, ADOB B, ADOB 2.0 Mo) on white lupine. In addition, we evaluated the enzymatic activity of dehydrogenase, acid, and alkaline phosphatases, catalase, the level of biological nitrogen fixation, yield, plant biometric, chlorophyll fluorescence and chlorophyll content. A field experiment was conducted between 2016 and 2018 at the Gorzyń Experimental and Educational Station, Poznań University of Life Sciences in Poland. The best effects in plant yield were obtained after the application of Optysil or ADOB Zn IDHA. The three years results of dehydrogenase (DHA), alkaline phosphatase (PAL), and the biological index of soil fertility (BIF), show that the bio-stimulants and most of the foliar fertilizers used did not always stimulate the activity of these enzymes and index in the white lupine crops, as compared with the control treatment. Analysis of the results of the acid phosphatase activity (PAC) shows that during the entire white lupine growing season the foliar fertilizers and bio-stimulants decreased the activity of this enzyme. This effect was not observed when the Metalosate potassium foliar fertilizer was applied. The field analyses of biological nitrogen fixation showed that the fertilizers and bio-stimulants significantly stimulated nitrogenase activity under the white lupine plantation. The best effects in plant yield were obtained after application Optysil or ADOB Zn IDHA. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Effects of Water Stress and Modern Biostimulants on Growth and Quality Characteristics of Mint
Agronomy 2020, 10(1), 6; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10010006 - 18 Dec 2019
Cited by 8
Abstract
Natural biostimulants combine different elicitors that may influence economic properties of herbal crops, such as mint. Mint (Mentha longifolia L.) plants were subjected to three water levels based on container substrate capacity (CSC; 100% CSC, 70% CSC, and 50% CSC) and/or applications [...] Read more.
Natural biostimulants combine different elicitors that may influence economic properties of herbal crops, such as mint. Mint (Mentha longifolia L.) plants were subjected to three water levels based on container substrate capacity (CSC; 100% CSC, 70% CSC, and 50% CSC) and/or applications of four biostimulants (CRADLE™, Mobilizer™, Nanozim De’Lite™ [ND], and Nanozim NXT™ [NN]). ND and NN exhibited higher vegetative growth and root dry weight than the control (without biostimulants) and other treatments. NN produced the highest fresh and dry mint yields under all water levels. Irrigation water-use efficiency (IWUE) of NN was highest (2.78 kg m−3) with 70% CSC, whereas the control produced the lowest IWUE (1.85 kg m−3) with 100% CSC. Biostimulants boosted physiological and metabolic responses, including gas exchange, leaf water potential, relative water content, and proline accumulation of stressed plants. NN treatment with 70% CSC had the highest essential oil (EO) ratio (3.35%). Under 70% and 50% CSC with NN treatment, the proportion of 1,8-cineol increased and that of pulegone decreased in EOs. Increased antioxidant activities, reduced H2O2 levels, and increased catalase and superoxide dismutase activities were observed. Applications of ND and NN during water stress conditions increased economic and medicinal properties of mint EOs with applications in the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Bacillus subtilis CBR05 for Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) Fruits in South Korea as a Novel Plant Probiotic Bacterium (PPB): Implications from Total Phenolics, Flavonoids, and Carotenoids Content for Fruit Quality
Agronomy 2019, 9(12), 838; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9120838 - 03 Dec 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
Plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) are naturally occurring soil biota which benefit plants by improving plant productivity and immunity. The aim of the present work was to evaluate the effect of the inoculation of PGPR strain, Bacillus subtilis CBR05 on the quality of tomato [...] Read more.
Plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) are naturally occurring soil biota which benefit plants by improving plant productivity and immunity. The aim of the present work was to evaluate the effect of the inoculation of PGPR strain, Bacillus subtilis CBR05 on the quality of tomato fruits produced under greenhouse conditions. Results were compared with mock-inoculated control and market sample. We found a significant increase in total phenol and flavonoid contents of tomato fruits in PGPR strain B. subtilis CBR05 inoculated plants compared to those of mock-inoculated control and market sample. Moreover, B. subtilis CBR05 inoculation stimulated antioxidant activities and levels of carotenoid (β carotene and lycopene) content in plants. In addition, the inoculation of the strain B. subtilis CBR05 produced the highest content of lycopene (21.08 μg/g FW) in tomato fruits as compared to mock-inoculated plants. Our results show that the PGPR strain B. subtilis CBR05 is a versatile soil bacterium that enhances tomato production by elevating antioxidant activities and carotenoid (β carotene and lycopene) levels in fruit. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Investigating the Impact of Biostimulants on the Row Crops Corn and Soybean Using High-Efficiency Phenotyping and Next Generation Sequencing
Agronomy 2019, 9(11), 761; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9110761 - 16 Nov 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
Row crops represent the most important crops in terms of global cultivated area. Such crops include soybean, corn, wheat, rice, rapeseed, sunflower, and cotton. Row crops agriculture is generally an intensive system of farming used to obtain high yields by employing elevated quantities [...] Read more.
Row crops represent the most important crops in terms of global cultivated area. Such crops include soybean, corn, wheat, rice, rapeseed, sunflower, and cotton. Row crops agriculture is generally an intensive system of farming used to obtain high yields by employing elevated quantities of organic and mineral fertilizers. Considering this, and the decrease in area of arable land, it becomes crucial to ensure high yield and quality using alternative strategies, such as the use of plant biostimulants. These compounds are increasingly recognized as sustainable solution to optimize nutrient uptake, crop yield, quality, and tolerance to abiotic stresses. In this work, by means of high-throughput plant phenotyping, we evaluated the effectiveness of a set of three new foliar biostimulant prototypes (coded as 52096, 52097, 52113) applied on corn and soybean at application rates 2.5 and 5 mL/L (corresponding to 1 and 2 L/ha respectively). This allowed us to select the most effective prototype (52097, commercial name “YieldOn®”) in increasing digital biovolume (DB) and greener area (GGA) either in soybean (both application rates) or corn (rate 5 mL/L) and decreasing Stress Index (SI) in soybean (both application rates). Molecular mechanism of action of selected prototype 52097 was subsequently characterized through Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). In corn, genes involved in hormone (cytokinin and auxin) metabolism/catabolism, maltose biosynthesis, sugar transport and phloem loading were upregulated after application of prototype 52097. In soybean, genes involved in nitrogen metabolism, metal ion transport (mainly zinc and iron), sulfate reduction, and amino acid biosynthesis were induced. The proposed approach supports the integration of multiple omics to open new perspectives in the discovery, evaluation, and development of innovative and sustainable solutions to meet the increasing needs of row-crops agriculture. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Chemical Composition of Winter Rape Seeds Depending on the Biostimulators Used
Agronomy 2019, 9(11), 716; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9110716 - 05 Nov 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
Plant growth regulators may reduce the negative effect of environmental stress factors and can contribute to increasing the quality and quantity of the yield. The aim of the research was to determine the effect of biostimulators on the quality of seeds of three [...] Read more.
Plant growth regulators may reduce the negative effect of environmental stress factors and can contribute to increasing the quality and quantity of the yield. The aim of the research was to determine the effect of biostimulators on the quality of seeds of three winter rape morphotypes. Three varieties of winter rape were used: Poznaniak (population variety), PX104 (hybrid variety restored with a semi-dwarf growth type) and Konkret (hybrid variety restored with a traditional growth type). The varieties were exposed to three treatments: the biostimulator Tytanit®, the biostimulator Asahi®SL and the biostimulator Silvit®, and the control with no biostimulators. Seeds were analysed for content of crude fat, total fat and crude fibres. The biostimulators reduced total protein content (on average from 0.8 to 1.75 g·kg−1 of d.m.) and increased the concentration of crude fat (on average from 0.71 to 1.93 g·kg−1 of d.m.) and crude fibre (on average from 0.15 to 0.84 g·kg−1 of d.m.) compared to the control. PX104 had the highest content of crude fat and total fat protein, and the lowest in crude fibre. The smallest protein content was found in seeds of the long-stem hybrid Konkret, while crude fat was lowest in the population form (Poznaniak), and crude fibre was lowest in long-stem hybrid (Konkret). Full article
Open AccessArticle
Biostimulants for Plant Growth Promotion and Sustainable Management of Phytoparasitic Nematodes in Vegetable Crops
Agronomy 2019, 9(10), 616; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9100616 - 07 Oct 2019
Cited by 6
Abstract
The parasitism of root-knot nematodes, Meloidogyne spp., can cause heavy yield losses to vegetable crops. Plant biostimulants are often reported for a side-suppressive effect on these pests and many commercial products are increasingly included in sustainable nematode control strategies. Source materials of most [...] Read more.
The parasitism of root-knot nematodes, Meloidogyne spp., can cause heavy yield losses to vegetable crops. Plant biostimulants are often reported for a side-suppressive effect on these pests and many commercial products are increasingly included in sustainable nematode control strategies. Source materials of most biostimulants derived from plant or seaweed raw materials were documented for a reliable suppression of root-knot nematode species, whereas the suppressiveness of microbial biostimulants was found largely variable, as related to the crop and to environmental factors. Chitosan-based biostimulants were also stated for a variable phytonematode suppression, though clearly demonstrated only by a few number of studies. In a preliminary experimental case study, four commercial biostimulants based on quillay extract (QE), sesame oil (SO), seaweeds (SE), or neem seed cake (NC) were comparatively investigated for their effects against the root-knot nematode M. incognita on potted tomato. Soil treatments with all the four biostimulants resulted in a significant reduction of nematode eggs and galls on tomato roots, though NC and SO were significantly more suppressive than QE or SE. In addition, almost all biostimulant treatments also resulted in a significant improvement of tomato growth compared to the non-treated control. These preliminary results seem to confirm the literature data and clearly indicate the potential role of biostimulants for a safe nematode management both in organic and integrated crop systems. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Seed Coating with Thyme Essential Oil or Paraburkholderia phytofirmans PsJN Strain: Conferring Septoria Leaf Blotch Resistance and Promotion of Yield and Grain Isotopic Composition in Wheat
Agronomy 2019, 9(10), 586; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9100586 - 26 Sep 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Septoria leaf blotch (SLB) is considered one of the most devastating diseases affecting global wheat production. Biostimulant application is among the modern approaches in plant protection to overcome the impact of SLB’s fungicide resistance. In this manner, the effect of coating seeds with [...] Read more.
Septoria leaf blotch (SLB) is considered one of the most devastating diseases affecting global wheat production. Biostimulant application is among the modern approaches in plant protection to overcome the impact of SLB’s fungicide resistance. In this manner, the effect of coating seeds with thyme essential oil or Paraburkholderia phytofirmans PsJN strain on SLB severity and yield components (spikes/m2, straw yield (SY), grain yield (GY) and thousand kernel weight (TKW)) were assessed under field conditions for 3 years. The effect on physiological traits and nitrogen and carbon isotope composition (δ15Ngrain, δ13Cgrain) and nitrogen and carbon content (Ngrain, Cgrain) of grains was assessed in one year of study. The increasing SLB severity decreased all yield components, increased δ15Ngrain and Cgrain content and slightly decreased δ13Cgrain as the resulting effect of Zymoseptoria tritici inducing stomatal opening and leaf necrosis. Across the years, both treatments alleviated the SLB adverse impact by reducing SLB severity, increasing spikes/m2, SY, GY and TKW. Both treatments ameliorated grain quality by increasing Cgrain content and decreasing δ13Cgrain and δ15Ngrain. The difference between the performance of thyme oil or PsJN strain in terms of intensity and stability is discussed and considered to be linked to the different triggered systemic resistance and the associated amount of costs deriving from resource allocation towards defense processes. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Effect of Vegetal- and Seaweed Extract-Based Biostimulants on Agronomical and Leaf Quality Traits of Plastic Tunnel-Grown Baby Lettuce under Four Regimes of Nitrogen Fertilization
Agronomy 2019, 9(10), 571; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9100571 - 22 Sep 2019
Cited by 8
Abstract
Nitrogen (N) fertilizers play a crucial role in agriculture, representing a powerful tool for farmers for increasing yields throughout the seasons under both optimal and suboptimal conditions. At the same time, their synthetic/chemical nature could have several influences on ecosystems and human health. [...] Read more.
Nitrogen (N) fertilizers play a crucial role in agriculture, representing a powerful tool for farmers for increasing yields throughout the seasons under both optimal and suboptimal conditions. At the same time, their synthetic/chemical nature could have several influences on ecosystems and human health. For this reason, there is an urgent need to find new and more sustainable means of production to increase plant productivity and optimize nitrogen use. An experiment was conducted in a plastic tunnel to assess the response of baby lettuce crop to the foliar application of three plant biostimulants (PBs): Legume-derived protein hydrolysate (LDPH) ‘Trainer®’, tropical plant extract (TPE) ‘Auxym®’ and seaweed extract (SwE) from Ecklonia maxima ‘Kelpak®’ under different N rates of 0, 10, 20 and 30 kg N·ha−1. The responses of baby lettuce plants were assessed in terms of yield, growth parameters and physicochemical composition of the leaves. The fresh yield of baby lettuce in both biostimulant-treated and untreated plants was positively affected by increasing N rates from 0 to 20 kg N·ha−1, reaching a plateau thereafter indicating luxury N conditions at 30 kg N·ha−1. However, high N fertilizer application (20 and especially 30 kg N·ha−1) resulted in undesirable decreases in antioxidant activities and total ascorbic acid (TAA). Under non-fertilized regimens, foliar PBs application boost growth and yield of baby lettuce in comparison to non-treated plants. Foliar spray with LDPH and especially SwE elicited significant increases in marketable fresh yield (averaging 14%, 6% and 7% at 10, 20 and 30 kg N·ha−1, respectively) compared to TPE and untreated plants. Improved agronomical performance of baby lettuce under optimal (10 kg N ha−1) and especially suboptimal N regimens (0 kg N ha−1) was associated with increasing photochemical efficiency and a better activity of photosystem II (higher Soil Plant Analysis Development-SPAD index and chlorophyllous pigments biosynthesis). The application of LDPH enhanced antioxidant capacity and TAA in baby lettuce leaf and did not increased nitrate content as recorded in SwE and TPE treatments. Overall, plant biostimulants may be considered as a sustainable tool of production to increase leafy vegetable productivity in low fertility soils. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Yield and Nutritional Quality of Vesuvian Piennolo Tomato PDO as Affected by Farming System and Biostimulant Application
Agronomy 2019, 9(9), 505; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9090505 - 02 Sep 2019
Cited by 13
Abstract
Scientific investigations are being increasingly devoted to biostimulant effects on vegetable yield and quality, with the perspective of sustainable crop management. Two farming systems (conventional or organic) in factorial combination with two biostimulant treatments (tropical plant extract (PE); legume-derived protein hydrolysate (PH)) plus [...] Read more.
Scientific investigations are being increasingly devoted to biostimulant effects on vegetable yield and quality, with the perspective of sustainable crop management. Two farming systems (conventional or organic) in factorial combination with two biostimulant treatments (tropical plant extract (PE); legume-derived protein hydrolysate (PH)) plus a non-treated control were compared in terms of tomato fruit yield, yield components, mineral composition, functional and nutritional indicators. PE- and PH-based biostimulants resulted in higher plant biomass, PH even in higher leaf area index, compared to non-treated control. Marketable yield was not significantly affected by farming system. PH and PE gave higher yield than non-treated control. PH treatment led to higher fruit number than the control, whereas PE incurred significant increase in yield only under organic farming. The mean fruit weight attained the highest value upon PE application under conventional management. Colour component a* (redness) was higher with the conventional system compared to the organic one, whereas an opposite trend was shown by the organic acids malate, oxalate and isocitrate. Irrespective of the farming system, the soluble solids, fruit brightness (L*) and redness as well as the target organic acids malate, oxalate, citrate and isocitrate were significantly higher than untreated plants by 10.1%, 16.1%, 19.8%, 18.9%, 12.1%, 13.5% and 26.8%, respectively, with no significant differences between the PH- and PE-based biostimulants. Higher lipophilic activity and total ascorbic acid concentration but lower lycopene were recorded under organic management. PE and PH application resulted in higher total phenol and ascorbic acid as well as in lycopene content, and lipophilic antioxidant activity than the non-treated control. Biostimulants proved to be an effective sustainable tool for enhancing tomato fruit yield and functional quality both under conventional and organic vegetable systems. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Foliar Applications of Biostimulants Promote Growth, Yield and Fruit Quality of Strawberry Plants Grown under Nutrient Limitation
Agronomy 2019, 9(9), 483; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9090483 - 26 Aug 2019
Cited by 10
Abstract
Biostimulants have been found effective in enhancing plant resistance toward stressful conditions. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the efficacy of selected biostimulants to overcome the negative effects of nutrient limitation on the growth performances and on the fruit quality [...] Read more.
Biostimulants have been found effective in enhancing plant resistance toward stressful conditions. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the efficacy of selected biostimulants to overcome the negative effects of nutrient limitation on the growth performances and on the fruit quality of soilless cultivated strawberry plants. The condition of nutrient limitation was imposed by supplying the plants with only a single fertilization at transplantation and by excluding any further nutrient supply for the entire duration of the experiment (three months, from May to July). Strawberry plants were treated seven times during the period from preflowering up to berry maturation with different classes of biostimulants (humic acids, alfalfa hydrolysate, macroseaweed extract and microalga hydrolysate, amino acids alone or in combination with zinc, B-group vitamins, chitosan, and a commercial product containing silicon) at commercial dosages. The use of alfalfa hydrolysate, vitamins, chitosan, and silicon was able to promote biomass accumulation in roots (four to seven folds) and fruits (+20%) of treated plants, whereas the total leaf area increased by 15%–30%. Nutrient concentrations in leaves and roots showed variations for microelements (e.g., Fe, B, Zn, and Si) in response to biostimulant applications, whereas no significant differences were observed for macronutrient contents among treatments. Final berry yield was found around 20% higher in chitosan- and silicon-treated plants. Chitosan treatment significantly increased pulp firmness (by 20%), while a high nutritional value (e.g., phenolic compounds concentration) was observed in alfalfa- and seaweed-treated fruits (+18%–20% as compared to control). The overall outcomes of the present experiment show that selected biostimulants can be considered as a valid agronomic tool able to contrast the negative consequence of growing crops under insufficient nutritional conditions. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Biostimulant Application Enhances Fruit Setting in Eggplant—An Insight into the Biology of Flowering
Agronomy 2019, 9(9), 482; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9090482 - 26 Aug 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
Eggplant (Solanum melongena L.) is a warm climate crop. Its cultivation extends to temperate regions where low temperatures can affect the course of the generative phase, which is primarily sensitive to abiotic stress. The novelty of the present investigation consisted of characterising [...] Read more.
Eggplant (Solanum melongena L.) is a warm climate crop. Its cultivation extends to temperate regions where low temperatures can affect the course of the generative phase, which is primarily sensitive to abiotic stress. The novelty of the present investigation consisted of characterising the heterostyly, pollination, and fertilisation biology of eggplants in field cultivations, which provided a basis for explaining the effect of a protective biostimulant on these processes. We aimed to investigate the flowering biology of three eggplant hybrids treated with Göemar BM-86®, containing Ascophylum nodosum extract, to determine the crucial mechanisms behind the increased flowering and fruit set efficiency and the final effect of increased yield. The flower phenotype (long, medium or short styled), fruit setting, and the number of seeds per fruit were recorded during the two vegetation periods. The numbers of pollen tubes and fertilised ovules in ovaries were evaluated during the generative stage of development to characterise the course of pollination and fertilisation for all types of flowers depending on the cultivar and biostimulant treatment. The expression of heterostyly depended on the eggplant genotype, age of the plant, fruit load, and biostimulant treatment. Domination by long-styled flowers was observed, amounting to 41%, 42%, and 55% of all flowers of “Epic” F1, “Flavine” F1, and “Gascona” F1, respectively. This flower phenotype contained the highest number of pollen tubes in the style and the highest number of fertilised ovules. The biostimulant had a positive effect on the flower and fruit set numbers, as well as on the pollination efficiency in all genotypes. Ascophylum nodosum extract could be used as an efficient stimulator of flowering and fruit setting for eggplant hybrids in field conditions in a temperate climatic zone. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Metabolite-Targeted Analysis and Physiological Traits of Zea mays L. in Response to Application of a Leonardite-Humate and Lignosulfonate-Based Products for Their Evaluation as Potential Biostimulants
Agronomy 2019, 9(8), 445; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9080445 - 12 Aug 2019
Cited by 4
Abstract
The main aim of this study is to identify and investigate specific humates (Hs) as potential biostimulants. Five specialty lignosulfonates (LS1-5), one commercial leonardite-humate (PH), and one commercial lignosulfonate (LH), were analyzed for their carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur contents, and the distribution of [...] Read more.
The main aim of this study is to identify and investigate specific humates (Hs) as potential biostimulants. Five specialty lignosulfonates (LS1-5), one commercial leonardite-humate (PH), and one commercial lignosulfonate (LH), were analyzed for their carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur contents, and the distribution of functional groups using Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) and Raman spectroscopies. Hs were further supplied for two days to Zea mays L. in hydroponics to test their capacity to trigger changes in physiological target-responses. LS1, LS2, LS3, and LS5 determined the most pronounced effects on plant growth and accumulation of proteins and phenolics, perhaps because of their chemical and spectroscopic features. Root growth was more increased (+51–140%) than leaf growth (+5–35%). This effect was ascribed to higher stimulation of N metabolism in roots according to the increased activity of N-assimilation enzymes (GS and GOGAT) and high consumption of sugars for energy-dependent processes. Increased values of RuBisCO, SPAD (Soil Plant Analysis Development values), and leaf sugar accumulation refer to enhanced photosynthesis attributed to Hs. We conclude that Hs tested in this study functioned as biostimulants, but the specialty lignosulfonates were more efficient in this role, possibly because of the type of starting material and process used for their production, which may have influenced their chemical properties. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Paramylon Treatment Improves Quality Profile and Drought Resistance in Solanum lycopersicum L. cv. Micro-Tom
Agronomy 2019, 9(7), 394; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9070394 - 17 Jul 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
Tomatoes, the most cultivated vegetables worldwide, require large amounts of water and are adversely affected by water stress. Solanum lycopersicum L., cv. Micro-Tom was used to assess the effects of β-(1,3)-glucan (paramylon) purified from the microalga Euglena gracilis on drought resistance and fruit [...] Read more.
Tomatoes, the most cultivated vegetables worldwide, require large amounts of water and are adversely affected by water stress. Solanum lycopersicum L., cv. Micro-Tom was used to assess the effects of β-(1,3)-glucan (paramylon) purified from the microalga Euglena gracilis on drought resistance and fruit quality profile. Plants were grown in an aeroponic system under three cultivation conditions: optimal water regimen, water scarcity regimen, and water scarcity regimen coupled with a root treatment with paramylon. Eco–physiological, physicochemical and quality parameters were monitored and compared throughout the lifecycle of the plants. Drought stress caused only a transient effect on the eco–physiological parameters of paramylon-treated plants, whereas physicochemical and biochemical parameters underwent significant variations. In particular, the fruits of paramylon-treated plants reached the first ripening stage two weeks before untreated plants grown under the optimal water regime, while the fruits of stressed untreated plants did not ripe beyond category II. Moreover, antioxidant compounds (carotenoids, phenolic acid, and vitamins) of fruits from treated plants underwent a two-fold increase with respect to untreated plants, as well as soluble carbohydrates (glucose, fructose, and sucrose). These results show that paramylon increases plant resistance to drought and highly improves the quality profile of the fruits with respect to untreated plants grown under drought stress. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Exogenous Application of Amino Acids Improves the Growth and Yield of Lettuce by Enhancing Photosynthetic Assimilation and Nutrient Availability
Agronomy 2019, 9(5), 266; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9050266 - 26 May 2019
Cited by 4
Abstract
As natural plant growth stimulators, amino acids are widely used to improve the yield and quality of crops. Several studies have illustrated the effects of different amino acids on lettuce plant parts. However, the effects of applying single amino acids on root growth [...] Read more.
As natural plant growth stimulators, amino acids are widely used to improve the yield and quality of crops. Several studies have illustrated the effects of different amino acids on lettuce plant parts. However, the effects of applying single amino acids on root growth remain elusive. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of root application of L-methionine on the growth of lettuce. In this study, two successive experiments on butterhead lettuce were conducted under hydroponic conditions. Three amino acids, L-methionine (20 mg/L), L-glycine (210 mg/L), and L-tryptophan (220 mg/L), were applied separately. L-methionine significantly increased the growth performance by 23.60%, whereas growth using L-tryptophan and L-glycine decreased by 98.78% and 27.45%, respectively. Considering the results of the first experiment, a second experiment was established with different concentrations of L-methionine (2200 mg/L, 220 mg/L, 22 mg/L, 2.2 mg/L, 0.2 mg/L, and 0.02 mg/L). The plants were allowed to grow for four weeks. Leaf width, plant area, leaf area, chlorophyll contents, etc., were evaluated. The results show that plant growth significantly improved by applying L-methionine at the lowest concentrations of 0.2 mg/L and 0.02 mg/L, which can, therefore, improve hydroponic production of lettuce and, accordingly, human nutrition. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi Modulate the Crop Performance and Metabolic Profile of Saffron in Soilless Cultivation
Agronomy 2019, 9(5), 232; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9050232 - 08 May 2019
Cited by 9
Abstract
Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is cultivated worldwide. Its stigmas represent the highest-priced spice and contain bioactive compounds beneficial for human health. Saffron cultivation commonly occurs in open field, and spice yield can vary greatly, from 0.15 to 1.5 g m−2, [...] Read more.
Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is cultivated worldwide. Its stigmas represent the highest-priced spice and contain bioactive compounds beneficial for human health. Saffron cultivation commonly occurs in open field, and spice yield can vary greatly, from 0.15 to 1.5 g m−2, based on several agronomic and climatic factors. In this study, we evaluated saffron cultivation in soilless systems, where plants can benefit from a wealth of nutrients without competition with pathogens or stresses related to nutrient-soil interaction. In addition, as plant nutrient and water uptake can be enhanced by the symbiosis with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), we also tested two inocula: a single species (Rhizophagus intraradices) or a mixture of R. intraradices and Funneliformis mosseae. After one cultivation cycle, we evaluated the spice yield, quality (ISO category), antioxidant activity, and bioactive compound contents of saffron produced in soilless systems and the effect of the applied AMF inocula. Spice yield in soilless systems (0.55 g m−2) was on average with that produced in open field, while presented a superior content of several health-promoting compounds, such as polyphenols, anthocyanins, vitamin C, and elevated antioxidant activity. The AMF symbiosis with saffron roots was verified by light and transmission electron microscopy. Inoculated corms showed larger replacement corms (+50% ca.). Corms inoculated with R. intraradices performed better than those inoculated with the mix in terms of spice quality (+90% ca.) and antioxidant activity (+88% ca.). Conversely, the mixture of R. intraradices and F. mosseae increased the polyphenol content (+343% ca.). Thus, soilless systems appeared as an effective alternative cultivation strategy for the production of high quality saffron. Further benefits can be obtained by the application of targeted AMF-based biostimulants. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Comparison between Chemical Fertilization and Integrated Nutrient Management: Yield, Quality, N, and P Contents in Dendranthema grandiflorum (Ramat.) Kitam. Cultivars
Agronomy 2019, 9(4), 202; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9040202 - 19 Apr 2019
Cited by 4
Abstract
To assess the effects of a new integrated nutrient management protocol on yield and cut stem quality, root morphology, N accumulation, nitrogen utilization efficiency (NUE), and P content in tissue, a biennial (2011 and 2012) chrysanthemum cut flower cultivation was carried out. In [...] Read more.
To assess the effects of a new integrated nutrient management protocol on yield and cut stem quality, root morphology, N accumulation, nitrogen utilization efficiency (NUE), and P content in tissue, a biennial (2011 and 2012) chrysanthemum cut flower cultivation was carried out. In both years, two nutrition management (CNM: conventional NM and INM: integrated NM) treatments and two Dendranthema grandiflorum (Ramat.) Kitamura cultivar (“White CV1” and “Yellow CV2”) treatments were compared. The treatments were arranged in a split-plot design with three replicates. CNM was fertilized using a recommended dose fertilization of mineral NPK; INM treatment was fertilized using a half dose (50%) of CNM plus a combined usage of N organic fertilizer, seaweed extract (Ascophyllum nodosum), and microrganism consortium (Glomus sp. and Bacillus sp.). Yield at harvest (+19%), number of leaves (+33%), leaf area (+46%), number of flower heads (+27%), and total aboveground dry weight (+40%) were significantly increased by the INM application compared to the control. In terms of the root system, the increase was evident in terms of length (+174%), volume (+167%), projected area (+166%), and surface area (+165%), tips (+175%), forks (+285%), and crossings (+464%). The greatest N accumulation, in both years, was registered by INM treatment at harvest: +94% in 2011 and +55% in 2012. Differences in the NM were evident in the NUE, which was highest in CNM (on average 162) compared to INM (on average 142). In both years the P content in above-ground chrysanthemum tissues was in the order of head > leaves > stems, which was maintained in both INM and CNM treatments. A higher yield (138 stems m−2) was obtained in “CV2 Yellow” compared to “CV1 White” (120 stems m−2). Based on our findings, applying INM to chrysanthemum improves yield, cut flower quality, and plant nutrient uptake, in an agro–environmentally sustainable way. A basic economic analysis on fertilizers, cost gross production, and takings difference obtained, was carried out. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Morphological and Biochemical Responses of Glycine max (L.) Merr. to the Use of Seaweed Extract
Agronomy 2019, 9(2), 93; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9020093 - 18 Feb 2019
Cited by 13
Abstract
Currently, modern agriculture aims to improve the quantity and quality of crop yield, while minimizing the negative impact of treatments on the natural environment. One of the methods to increase plant yield and quality, especially after the occurrence of both abiotic or biotic [...] Read more.
Currently, modern agriculture aims to improve the quantity and quality of crop yield, while minimizing the negative impact of treatments on the natural environment. One of the methods to increase plant yield and quality, especially after the occurrence of both abiotic or biotic stress factors, is the application of biostimulants. The aim of the study was to determine the effect of Ecklonia maxima extract on plant growth, and the yield, nutritional, and nutraceutical properties of soybean seeds. A field experiment was conducted in three growing seasons (2014–2016). Soybean seeds of Atlanta cultivar were sown in the third 10-day period of April. Ecklonia maxima extract was applied in the form of single or double, spraying in the concentrations of 0.7% and 1.0%. Determinations were conducted for: biometric traits, seed yield, seed number, thousand seeds weight, contents of lipids, and proteins in seeds. Further analyses included the contents of total polyphenols, flavonoids, anthocyanins, and reducing power. The number of seaweed extract applications and its concentration modified biometric traits, yield, and quality of crop, while also also altering the nutraceutical and antioxidative potential of soybean. The application of this preparation improved the growth and yield of soybean without any negative effect on the nutritive value of seeds. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Vegetal-Derived Biostimulant Enhances Adventitious Rooting in Cuttings of Basil, Tomato, and Chrysanthemum via Brassinosteroid-Mediated Processes
Agronomy 2019, 9(2), 74; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9020074 - 10 Feb 2019
Cited by 4
Abstract
Plant-derived protein biostimulants exhibit hormone-like activities promoting plant growth and yield, yet detailed investigations on hormonal function have remained limited. This study was conducted to investigate the effects of vegetal-derived-biostimulant on morphological and metabolic changes in cuttings of three herbaceous species demonstrating different [...] Read more.
Plant-derived protein biostimulants exhibit hormone-like activities promoting plant growth and yield, yet detailed investigations on hormonal function have remained limited. This study was conducted to investigate the effects of vegetal-derived-biostimulant on morphological and metabolic changes in cuttings of three herbaceous species demonstrating different rooting ability, basil (Ocimum basilicum L.), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.), and chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum indicum L.), in comparison to auxin. Unrooted cuttings were applied with or without biostimulant (100, 1000, 5000, and 10,000 mg L−1) or auxin [1% indole-3-butyric acid (IBA) plus 0.5% 1-naphthaleneacetic acid (NAA); 100, 200, 300, and 500 mg L−1] as a basal quick-dip, stuck into inert media, and evaluated at 20 days after placement under intermittent mist. Both compounds increased adventitious rooting in all cuttings. Biostimulant required a significantly higher threshold for a series of adventitious rooting responses than auxin, and the maximum effectiveness was achieved at 5000 mg L−1 for biostimulant and 100, 200, and 300 mg L−1 for auxin in basil, tomato, and chrysanthemum, respectively. Adventitious rooting responses (dry mass and length) to biostimulant showed a gradual logarithmic rise as a function of increasing dosages, which was not in agreement with biphasic dose-response of auxin. Biostimulant significantly increased or tended to increase fine roots in all tested cuttings, which was not consistent with auxin. Relatively high levels of endogenous brassinosteroids (BRs) were present in non-treated cuttings of basil, tomato, and chrysanthemum in decreasing order. Both compounds had no effects or concomitantly increased or decreased BR levels in plant tissues, with fewer effects on basil and tomato, containing high BR levels, but more prominent effects on chrysanthemum, containing relatively low BR levels. Contrasting effects of biostimulant and auxin were found in antioxidant activities, which were promoted by biostimulant but inhibited by auxin either in roots or shoots. These results indicate that the hormonal effects of vegetal-derived biostimulant are primarily exerted by BR-mediated processes while involving interaction with auxin. Both the biostimulant-derived BRs and auxin were suggested to modulate endogenous BR pool via overlapping and interdependent regulatory functions, inducing morphological and metabolic changes during adventitious rooting of cuttings in a plant species-specific manner. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
A Novel Biostimulant, Belonging to Protein Hydrolysates, Mitigates Abiotic Stress Effects on Maize Seedlings Grown in Hydroponics
Agronomy 2019, 9(1), 28; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9010028 - 09 Jan 2019
Cited by 13
Abstract
The main challenge to agriculture worldwide is feeding a rapidly growing human population, developing more sustainable agricultural practices that do not threaten human and ecosystem health. An innovative solution relies on the use of biostimulants, as a tool to enhance nutrient use efficiency [...] Read more.
The main challenge to agriculture worldwide is feeding a rapidly growing human population, developing more sustainable agricultural practices that do not threaten human and ecosystem health. An innovative solution relies on the use of biostimulants, as a tool to enhance nutrient use efficiency and crop performances under sub-optimal conditions. In this work a novel biostimulant (APR®, ILSA S.p.A., Arzigano VI, Italy), belonging to the group of protein hydrolysates, was supplied to maize seedlings in hydroponic and its effects were assessed in control conditions and in the presence of three different kinds of stresses (hypoxia, salt and nutrient deficiency) and of their combination. Our results indicate that APR® is soluble and is able to influence root and shoot growth depending on its concentration. Furthermore, its effectiveness is clearly increased in condition of single or combination of abiotic stresses, thus confirming the previously hypothesised action of this substance as enhancer of the response to environmental adversities. Moreover, it also regulates the transcription of a set of genes involved in nitrate transport and ROS metabolism. Further work will be needed to try to transfer this basic knowledge in field experiments. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Saffron Cultivation in Marginal Alpine Environments: How AMF Inoculation Modulates Yield and Bioactive Compounds
Agronomy 2019, 9(1), 12; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9010012 - 31 Dec 2018
Cited by 11
Abstract
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) establish mutualistic symbiotic associations with plant roots and act as biofertilizers by enhancing plant nutrient and water uptake. Moreover, AMF colonization may influence the biosynthesis of plant bioactive compounds in medicinal and aromatic plants. There is limited information on [...] Read more.
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) establish mutualistic symbiotic associations with plant roots and act as biofertilizers by enhancing plant nutrient and water uptake. Moreover, AMF colonization may influence the biosynthesis of plant bioactive compounds in medicinal and aromatic plants. There is limited information on AMF associations with Crocus sativus L. (saffron) roots and their effect on crop performances and spice quality. In the present work we verified the efficiency of root mycorrhization in potted conditions, and then we evaluated the yield and quality of the saffron produced in two Alpine sites during two cultivation cycles with the application of AMF. Two inocula were applied, either a single-species (Rhizophagus intraradices) or a multispecies mixture (R. intraradices and Funneliformis mosseae). The trial conducted in potted conditions confirmed that both AMF commercial inocula established symbiotic relationships with saffron roots. The multispecies inoculation yielded the highest content of arbuscules in colonized portions of the root (100%), while the single-species was slightly less (82.9%) and no AMF were recorded in untreated control corms. In open-field conditions, AMF colonization of the root systems, flower production, and saffron yields were monitored, and bioactive compounds contents and antioxidant activity in the dried spice were analyzed using spectrophotometry and high performance liquid chromatography. Overall, the saffron produced was high quality (ISO category) and had high contents of bioactive compounds, with very high total polyphenol content and elevated antioxidant activity. The use of arbuscular mycorrhizal symbionts as biostimulants positively affected saffron cultivation, improving the crop performances and the content of important nutraceutical compounds. In particular, the inoculum composed by R. intraradices and F. mosseae increased flower production and the saffron yield. R. intraradices alone enhanced the spice antioxidant activity and the content of bioactive compounds such as picrocrocin, crocin II, and quercitrin. Since saffron is the world’s highest priced spice, the increases in yield and quality obtained using AMF suggests that farms in marginal areas such as alpine sites can increase profitability by inoculating saffron fields with arbuscular mycorrhiza. Full article

Review

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Open AccessReview
Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi and Associated Microbiota as Plant Biostimulants: Research Strategies for the Selection of the Best Performing Inocula
Agronomy 2020, 10(1), 106; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10010106 - 11 Jan 2020
Cited by 7
Abstract
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are beneficial soil microorganisms establishing mutualistic symbioses with the roots of the most important food crops and playing key roles in the maintenance of long-term soil fertility and health. The great inter- and intra-specific AMF diversity can be fully [...] Read more.
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are beneficial soil microorganisms establishing mutualistic symbioses with the roots of the most important food crops and playing key roles in the maintenance of long-term soil fertility and health. The great inter- and intra-specific AMF diversity can be fully exploited by selecting AMF inocula on the basis of their colonization ability and efficiency, which are affected by fungal and plant genotypes and diverse environmental variables. The multiple services provided by AMF are the result of the synergistic activities of the bacterial communities living in the mycorrhizosphere, encompassing nitrogen fixation, P solubilization, and the production of phytohormones, siderophores, and antibiotics. The tripartite association among host plants, mycorrhizal symbionts, and associated bacteria show beneficial emerging properties which could be efficiently exploited in sustainable agriculture. Further in-depth studies, both in microcosms and in the field, performed on different AMF species and isolates, should evaluate their colonization ability, efficiency, and resilience. Transcriptomic studies can reveal the expression levels of nutrient transporter genes in fungal absorbing hyphae in the presence of selected bacterial strains. Eventually, newly designed multifunctional microbial consortia can be utilized as biofertilizers and biostimulants in sustainable and innovative production systems. Full article
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Open AccessReview
Melatonin as a Chemical Substance or as Phytomelatonin Rich-Extracts for Use as Plant Protector and/or Biostimulant in Accordance with EC Legislation
Agronomy 2019, 9(10), 570; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9100570 - 21 Sep 2019
Cited by 13
Abstract
Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is a ubiquitous molecule present in animals and plants, and also in bacteria and fungi. In plants, it has an important regulatory and protective role in the face of different stress situations in which it can be involved, mainly [...] Read more.
Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is a ubiquitous molecule present in animals and plants, and also in bacteria and fungi. In plants, it has an important regulatory and protective role in the face of different stress situations in which it can be involved, mainly due to its immobility. Both in the presence of biotic and abiotic stressors, melatonin exerts protective action in which, through significant changes in gene expression, it activates a stress tolerance response. Its anti-stress role, along with other outstanding functions, suggests its possible use in active agricultural management. This review establishes considerations that are necessary for its possible authorization. The particular characteristics of this substance and its categorization as plant biostimulant are discussed, and also the different legal aspects within the framework of the European Community. The advantages and disadvantages are also described of two of its possible applications, as a plant protector or biostimulant, in accordance with legal provisions. Full article
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Open AccessReview
Plant Biostimulants: Importance of the Quality and Yield of Horticultural Crops and the Improvement of Plant Tolerance to Abiotic Stress—A Review
Agronomy 2019, 9(6), 335; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9060335 - 24 Jun 2019
Cited by 27Correction
Abstract
Biostimulants are among the natural preparations that improve the general health, vitality, and growth of plants and protect them against infections. They can be successfully used in both agri- and horticultural crops. The main active substances used in such preparations are humic and [...] Read more.
Biostimulants are among the natural preparations that improve the general health, vitality, and growth of plants and protect them against infections. They can be successfully used in both agri- and horticultural crops. The main active substances used in such preparations are humic and fulvic acids, protein hydrolysates, compounds containing nitrogen, seaweed extracts, beneficial fungi, and bacteria. Biostimulant formulations may be single- or multi-component, but the synergic action of several different components has been observed. Many groups of biostimulants have been distinguished through their method of application (soil, foliar), the material from which they were produced (plant, animal), or the process by which they were created (hydrolysis, fermentation, extraction). Natural soil stimulants can induce the development of beneficial soil organisms that provide substrates for plant growth. The use of natural preparations that are not harmful to the environment is particularly important in connection with the progressive processes of soil degradation and atmospheric pollution. This review gives an overview of the importance and influence of different natural plant biostimulants on both the yield and quality of crops. Full article
Open AccessEditor’s ChoiceReview
Biostimulants Application in Horticultural Crops under Abiotic Stress Conditions
Agronomy 2019, 9(6), 306; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9060306 - 12 Jun 2019
Cited by 40
Abstract
Abiotic stresses strongly affect plant growth, development, and quality of production; final crop yield can be really compromised if stress occurs in plants’ most sensitive phenological phases. Additionally, the increase of crop stress tolerance through genetic improvements requires long breeding programmes and different [...] Read more.
Abiotic stresses strongly affect plant growth, development, and quality of production; final crop yield can be really compromised if stress occurs in plants’ most sensitive phenological phases. Additionally, the increase of crop stress tolerance through genetic improvements requires long breeding programmes and different cultivation environments for crop performance validation. Biostimulants have been proposed as agronomic tools to counteract abiotic stress. Indeed, these products containing bioactive molecules have a beneficial effect on plants and improve their capability to face adverse environmental conditions, acting on primary or secondary metabolism. Many companies are investing in new biostimulant products development and in the identification of the most effective bioactive molecules contained in different kinds of extracts, able to elicit specific plant responses against abiotic stresses. Most of these compounds are unknown and their characterization in term of composition is almost impossible; therefore, they could be classified on the basis of their role in plants. Biostimulants have been generally applied to high-value crops like fruits and vegetables; thus, in this review, we examine and summarise literature on their use on vegetable crops, focusing on their application to counteract the most common environmental stresses. Full article

Other

Open AccessBrief Report
Exploratory Study on the Foliar Incorporation and Stability of Isotopically Labeled Amino Acids Applied to Turfgrass
Agronomy 2020, 10(3), 358; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10030358 - 05 Mar 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
There is increasing interest in the use of amino acid-based biostimulant products due to their reported abilities to improve a number of quality characteristics in a variety of specialty crops. However, when it comes to the foliar application of amino acids to turfgrass, [...] Read more.
There is increasing interest in the use of amino acid-based biostimulant products due to their reported abilities to improve a number of quality characteristics in a variety of specialty crops. However, when it comes to the foliar application of amino acids to turfgrass, there are still many basic questions about their uptake forms and incorporation into cellular metabolism. In this study, we shed light on the fate of amino acids exogenously applied to turfgrass foliage through a series of time-course, isotopic-labeling studies in creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera L.) leaves. Using both 15N-labeled and 15N,13C double-labeled L-glutamate applied exogenously to creeping bentgrass foliage, we measured the uptake of glutamate and its integration into γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and L-proline, two amino acids with known roles in plant stress adaptation. Our results demonstrate that glutamate is rapidly absorbed into creeping bentgrass foliage and that it is utilized to produce GABA and proline. Based on the labeling patterns observed in the endogenous pools of glutamate/glutamine, GABA, and the proline from applied glutamate-[13C515N1], we can further conclude that glutamate is predominantly taken up intact and that mineralization into other forms of nitrogen is a minor fate. Taken together, the collective findings of this study provide evidence that amino acids exogenously applied to turfgrass foliage can be rapidly absorbed, and serve as stable sources of precursor molecules to be integrated into the metabolism of the plant. Full article
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