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University of Southern Queensland: Testing Australian mycorrhizal fungi for their impacts on plant growth and ability to protect plants from drought stress – commercial partnership

Opportunity for

  • Corporate life science companies, research funding bodies, SME/scale-ups interested in supporting research of plant growth and drought resilience promoting mycorrhizal fungi.

Opportunity description

Industry challenge:

Australian agriculture is becoming constrained by climate change. Increased temperatures and reduced rainfall are having significant impacts on crop yields and endangering national food security. In addition to the direct effects of climate change, modern farming systems are being more severely impacted by fungal pathogens and fewer chemical controls are available to combat this. Mycorrhizal fungi occur in the roots of most plants. These microbes increase the plant root surface area for the capture of soil inorganic nutrients and water. In return for their services, the host plant provides photosynthate to the microbial partner. Colonisation of plants with specific mycorrhizal fungi also leads to resistance to abiotic stresses such as drought and salinity and heightened defence against pathogenic microbes such as fungi, bacteria and viruses. In Australia changes in climate since 2000 have reduced average annual cropping revenue by 8%.

The technology proposed could improve water use efficiency by more than 70% and therefore mitigate the impacts of seasonal variability and water stress and increase profits by more than $60,000 per farm. Across the Australian cropping sector this could increase revenue by more than 8 billion dollars, annually.

Current opportunity:

UniSQ is seeking a partner to fund glasshouse and field testing of the impacts of native mycorrhizal fungi on symbiotic growth and stress tolerance of broad acre and horticultural crops. Laboratory testing has shown improvements in plant growth and biomass of colonised plants. The aim is to develop a commercialisable and sustainable product that could be key to broad acre and horticultural crop resilience in a changing climate.

The use of mycorrhizal inoculants is becoming more commonplace in global agriculture, particularly with concerns about climate change, agrochemical safety and limiting phosphorus fertiliser availability. In Australia there are multiple commercial companies that retail mycorrhizal inoculants intended for both horticultural and broadacre use. These inoculants typically contain fungal propagules that are sourced from North America due to the absence of Australian mass-production technologies. Concerns with these microbes is that they are not well adapted to local environmental conditions and may not have favourable effects on colonised plants or they may not persist in soils in the longer term. Imported mycorrhizal fungi may also compete with indigenous microbes and the inoculants may contain contaminating materials which is of a significant quarantine concern.

The potential for commercial microbial inoculants based on native species of mycorrhizal fungi has not been investigated in Australia and UniSQ is seeking funding to address this gap.

Opportunity background:

Mycorrhizal fungi could be key to sustainable, low input agricultural practices. A crucial advantage of using these species as inoculants is that they are easy to culture in vitro, unlike international (arbuscular mycorrhizal) fungi. Australia appears to be uniquely placed to contribute to this technology as the continent is particularly rich in mycorrhizal fungi in contrast to the situation in other world regions. Over the past twenty years the Dearnaley research laboratory at UniSQ has built a collection of these fungi and developed considerable expertise working with these organisms. Our team has also formally described nine new species.

Other potential applications:

Horticulture industry including protected cropping situations, impact of technology on pastures.

Opportunity type

Field trial, Seeking partners


Mid (TRL 5-7)
Proof of concept in the laboratory then in the field resulting in the development of a minimum viable product (MVP).
What does this mean?
Describes the stage of the challenge or opportunity being pursued.

Opportunity led by

Multiple industries
Beef cattle Cereal grains Cotton Cross industry Dairy Eggs Forestry Fruits Natural capital assets Other rural industries Pasture, fodder & feed Pork Poultry Pulse grains Sugar Vegetables

University of Southern Queensland (USQ)

USQ is a young, dynamic university dedicated to providing quality programs and degrees in a flexible and supportive environment. In …
  • Location


  • Organisation type

    Public research organisation

Technology areas

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