Role of endophytes in early seedling growth of plants: a test using systemic fungicide seed treatment
Systemic fungicide seed treatments are routinely used in conventional agriculture to control soil and seed-borne diseases, but little is known about their unintended adverse effects on non-target beneficial fungal endophytes that are known to be involved in plant growth and development. This study evaluated the seed treatment effect of a broad spectrum systemic fungicide, carbendazim (bavistin) on symbiotic association of fungal endophytes in rice and on early seedling growth of rice, green gram, soybean, and cowpea. Seeds were surface sterilized with sodium hypochlorite followed by 0.2% bavistin treatment. Growth of fungal endophytes was significantly affected by the seed treatment with fungicide in rice seedlings, while shoot and root growth was suppressed in all the crops. Quantitative real time PCR showed that the level of expression of two basal transcriptional regulator genes, OsBTF3 and OsNF-YC1 that are required for seed germination and seedling growth significantly decreased in bavistin treated rice seedlings. Re-inoculation of consortia of fungal endophytes onto bavistin treated rice seedlings significantly recovered seedling growth and development. These results suggest that fungicide treatment of seeds affects early seedling growth and has negative impact on beneficial fungal endophytes that are involved in plant growth and development. This study provides information on possible ill effects of fungicide on beneficial fungal endophytes that play key roles in early seedling growth of plants and also open up the prospect to additional research on different crops in vitro and field conditions to determine the consequences of fungicide effects and optimise fungicide application strategies to develop sustainable disease control methods.