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Brazilian Ecosystem to Benefit from Study


Scientists from the University of Dundee and the University of York hope to improve the long term sustainability of certain ecosystems after being awarded a £359,422 grant from the Natural Environment Research Council to investigate unusual bacteria that live in the roots of trees and shrubs in the fragile and threatened savannah ecosystem of Central Brazil known as the “Cerrado”.

Dr Euan James, Dr Alan Prescott and Dr Sam Swift in the School of Life Sciences and Emeritus Professor of the University of Dundee, Janet Sprent, will be working with Professor Peter Young of the University of York and scientists in Brazil, to determine to what extent newly-discovered symbiotic bacteria, known as Beta-rhizobia, contribute to the nutrition of the tropical legume ‘Mimosa’.

Mimosa, better known as the ‘sensitive plant’ because it closes its leaves when touched or caught in the wind is a large group of woody plants that originated in South America and is native to the Brazilian Cerrado. There are many unique and rare species of Mimosa that are currently under threat from large scale burning of the native vegetation to make way for crops and pastures.

Dr Euan James explains the project, "By working with Brazilian scientists, including those based in the Cerrado, it is hoped that the research into Mimosa species and their symbiotic bacteria will contribute towards current programmes aimed at conserving the environment and biodiversity of this unique and fragile ecosystem.

“Potentially, Beta-rhizobia could be a key factor allowing rare and endangered Mimosa species to survive in the very demanding Cerrado ecosystem. At the same time they may also help these plants to contribute significantly to the long term sustainability of the very poor Cerrado soils by their unique ability to "fix" nitrogen in the atmosphere and convert it to nitrogen-rich chemicals that can be utilised by other plants."

The project is multidisciplinary, and firstly involves the collection of Mimosa species from the Cerrado with the assistance of local scientists, followed by the isolation and identification of the bacteria that live within the “nodules” attached to the roots of the plants. Detailed microscopy examinations of the interactions between the Mimosa plants and potentially beneficial bacteria will then be undertaken using the state of the art microscopy facilities in the Centre for High Resolution Imaging & Processing in the School of Life Sciences.

Angela Durcan | alfa
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