Meet Bacillus paralicheniformis, the Crop Guardian

Bacillus paralicheniformis, a powerful bacterium from the Sonoran Desert, emerges as a sustainable ally in agriculture, combating nematode threats naturally. Its potent nematicidal activity promises eco-friendly crop protection, heralding a greener future for farmers and the environment.

Meet Bacillus paralicheniformis, the Crop Guardian
Bacillus paralicheniformis: this bacterium offers eco-friendly nematode protection for farmers. Image by Ryder Richards from Pixabay

Bacteria, those tiny but mighty microorganisms, play a crucial role in our ecosystem, being present in various habitats from the depths of the ocean to the soil beneath our feet. Among these bacterial superheroes, a notable member of the Bacillus genus, Bacillus subtilis, has been crowned as the “microorganism of the year” by the Association for General and Applied Microbiology in 2023. This accolade is well-deserved, as Bacillus subtilis has proven to be an indispensable asset to multiple industries.

One of the remarkable applications of Bacillus subtilis lies in the production of enzymes used in the manufacture of beer and detergents, as well as its role as a probiotic for livestock. Additionally, it contributes to the production of antibiotics and vitamins, and even aids in healing concrete cracks in the construction industry.

However, its most significant impact is seen in agriculture, where it, along with other Bacillus species, serves as a natural and eco-friendly alternative to chemically synthesized pesticides. This is especially useful in protecting crops from harmful elements such as pest insects, disease-causing agents like fungi and bacteria, and nematodes that can wreak havoc on valuable crops.

Among these threats, plant pathogenic nematodes are particularly concerning. These tiny worms, which feed on the roots of plants, are difficult to detect early, making it challenging to take timely and effective action against them. However, various species of Bacillus bacteria have demonstrated the ability to produce compounds toxic to these nematodes, which helps in limiting their development.

In this context, a recent breakthrough in agricultural science has emerged from the Industrial Biotechnology Laboratory of the Centro de Investigación en Alimentación y Desarrollo (CIAD). Researchers isolated a bacterium called Bacillus paralicheniformis from the rhizospheric soil of plants native to the Sonoran Desert. This bacterium has exhibited a superior ability to defend plants against nematode attacks compared to other Bacillus species.

To understand the mechanisms behind this remarkable capacity, a PhD thesis was undertaken, focusing on identifying the chemical compounds responsible for B. paralicheniformis's nematicidal activity. The research involved conducting experiments and comparing the molecules produced by B. paralicheniformis with those produced by B. subtilis. The findings were groundbreaking: B. paralicheniformis produces a greater diversity of bioactive molecules, including surfactin, lichenisin, and phengicin families, which are instrumental in its potent nematicidal activity.

Notably, the research revealed that phengicins, present in B. paralicheniformis, displayed higher nematicidal activity compared to lichenisins and surfactins. This increased potency is attributed to their strong affinity for the nematode cell membrane, the site of action for these compounds.

The results of this pioneering study were published in the esteemed journal Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, known for its high impact in the field of biotechnology and applied microbiology. The article quickly caught the attention of the scientific community, ranking as the fourth most read and impactful article in the journal for that year, according to the Observatory of International Research.

The implications of this research are vast. The discovery of Bacillus paralicheniformis as a potent nematode antagonist holds promise for sustainable agriculture practices. By harnessing the power of this bacterium, farmers can adopt eco-friendly approaches to protect their crops from devastating nematode infestations, reducing the need for harmful chemical pesticides. This not only ensures healthier produce but also contributes to preserving the environment and promoting a more sustainable agricultural ecosystem.

As we delve further into the wonders of the microbial world, Bacillus paralicheniformis stands tall as an exemplar of nature's potential to aid our endeavors. With continued research and implementation of innovative solutions, we can forge a path towards a greener, healthier, and more productive agricultural future, one where the mighty allies among microorganisms lead the way to prosperity for farmers and the planet alike.