Too nice to be true – improved mineral nutrition shall protect plants from diseases

The Institute of Plant Nutrition of the Federal Agricultural Research Centre (FAL-PB) in Braunschweig, Germany and the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, invited for the „brimstone wedding“: 59 scientists from 16 nations discussed from November 21-22 in 27 contributions the future of research in fundamental, agricultural and environmental aspects of the sulphur metabolism in higher plants.


Keeping plants healthy by improving their sulphur supply in order to minimise or eventually avoid the use of pesticides: for this concept scientists working today at the Institute of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science of FAL 10 years ago coined the term „Sulphur Induced Resistance (SIR)“. Since then SIR has been verified for seven host/pathogen relations.

The potential of SIR in reducing fungal attacks under field conditions has been estimated to 17-35%. However, triggering SIR through fertilization in farmer’s practice has not always been successful. Reasons for this are manifold growth and environmental factors affecting the infection process, but also the compatibility of metabolic pathways in host and pathogen, and last but not least their temporal coincidence. Typical for new research areas: the number of open questions outruns the number of solutions found. The scientists identified paramount research needs still in the field of factors controlling the S metabolism, especially concerning enzymes involved and their metal co-factors. Beside the identification of the genom (sum of genetic information of a plant) a keystone for a better understanding of the sulphur metabolism is its assignment to the metabolome (sum of a plants metabolic compounds) and to the transcriptome (activity pattern of genes). This is indeed a huge task for research and only to accomplish by intensifying interdisciplinary work between physiologists and molecular biologists.

Computer simulations make their way also in plant nutrition and physiology research. One aspect of this field is the simulation of the sulphur supply of plants from the soil. Rogerio Cichota presented results from the German/Brazilian/New Zealand research consortium: HYSUMO enables the precise prognosis of the plant’s sulphur supply just from basic soil and climate data. The hitherto clou in this field, however, was presented by Dr. Rodrigo Gutierrez from the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Biology of the Catholic University in Chile, recent scientist at the Instiute of Biology at New-York University. The program „Virtual Plant“ developed by him does not need living plants or empiric research work in fields or laboratories anymore, but delivers a depict image about the interactions between different metabolic pathways, as for instance the ones of sulphur, nitrogen and carbon.

The „brimstone wedding“ was also time for an alteration of generations at the top ranks of sulphur research: Dr. Ineke Stulen from the University in Groningen bids farewell from her active job as an university lecturer. Being an author of many groundbreaking scientific publications and joint organiser of any sulfur conferences in the past 20 years she is part of the academic backbone of international sulphur research.

The presentations are available at: http://www.pb.fal.de and http://www.plantsufur.org.

Contact: Prof. Dr. Dr. Ewald Schnug und Dir. u. Prof. Dr. Silvia Haneklaus, Federal Agricultural Research Centre (FAL), Institute of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science, Bundesallee 50, D-38116 Braunschweig, E-Mail: pb@fal.de
or: Prof. Dr. Luit J. De Kok, Laboratory of Plant Physiology, University of Groningen, P.O. Box 14, NL-9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands, E-mail: l.j.de.kok@rug.nl

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