Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Scientists studying mechanisms by which plants growing in hot geothermal soils like Yellowstone National Park tolerate extreme heat, claim they have discovered symbiotic fungi which impart significant heat tolerance to a wide range of plants.
According to Grist;
… But there’s a lesser-known type of fungus that actually grows inside the bodies of most, if not all, plants, inhabiting the empty spaces between cells. Fungi that do this are known as endophytes, and they’re what Rodriguez and Redman found were the key to those plants surviving in Yellowstone.
Alone, neither the fungus nor the plants could survive temperatures higher than about 100 degrees F. But with their powers combined, they could somehow tolerate the extreme heat of geothermal soils. What’s more, the plants infected with these fungi seemed to require less water and nutrients to grow as much — if not more — biomass than those uninfected, while maintaining the same — or better — nutrient levels.
When Rodriguez and Redman tried infecting tomato and watermelon plants with the fungus, they found that both developed the same extreme heat tolerance within just 24 hours. …
This seems to be a pretty extreme claim, which might not stand up to deeper scrutiny. Suggesting a general effect across a wide range of plant species implies a common underlying heat resistance mechanism, which the endophyte in question can engage – which if true, is itself an intriguing proposition. Endophytes in general do not appear to be receiving much attention from researchers, compared to more fashionable fields of research such as transgenics, so we can only speculate what important opportunities are possibly being neglected.