Plants of vetches.

The application of biotechnology to improve the production of vetches and wheat.

The University of Salamanca has developed a project to design a biofertilizer based on indigenous bacteria which assist in the development of fodder and cereal grains.

The Department of Microbiology and Genetics at the University of Salamanca is working in a project that aims to improve the productivity of vetches (Vicia sativa), a crop used as fodder for livestock and planted in rotation with grains. To achieve their objective, researchers have supported the design of new biofertilizers based on bacteria that encourage the growth of this leguminous plant and, once present in the ground, also benefit future wheat planting.

‘The idea is to find indigenous inoculants that can adapt to the veches’, says Raúl Rivas González, director of this initiative, which was amongst those selected in a call for research projects by the regional Council of Salamanca, the result of an agreement with the academic institution of Salamanca to promote technology transfer in the primary sector.

There are microorganisms that grow in symbiosis with plants, mutually benefitting both species. In this case, in a joint effort with farmers from Aldeatejada, scientists have spent the last months analysing the bacteria which could be related with vetches. While the work is still ongoing, they have selected three. ‘In particular, two of them seem to have the greatest possibility of being used as inoculants’ states Mr. Rivas Gonzalez.

Nodular formation created by bacteria in the roots of vetch .
Nodular formation created by bacteria in the roots of vetch 

Specifically, the most interesting thing about these new biofertilizers is that they help obtain better crop yields without requiring farmers to resort to other more conventional fertilizers, which can potentially be more contaminating to the surrounding area. These are microorganisms which pose no harm to the environment or to the health of the animals or vegetation, so that ‘now we need only ensure that we obtain optimal crop yields’.

In fact, European policies support agriculture that is sustainable or beneficial to the environment, known as ‘greening’, and link them to part of the aid received by PAC. As part of this philosophy, it is important to renovate nutrients in the soil, and applying fertilizer based on indigenous bacteria is a contributing factor.

However, an important aspect of the project is to encourage more than just the development of vetches. ‘Although the bacteria do not establish a symbiosis with wheat, we can say that they do penetrate somewhat their root and also help in their growth’ points out Rivas Gonzalez.

The project began last summer and is expected to last one year, a relatively short time frame in agriculture research, although it may be just enough time to present initial results next September, within the timeframe of the important Salamaqun cultivo que queanca trabaja en un proyecto que pretende mejorar la productividad de la veza (Vicia sativa), un  agricultural trade fair, in which the University of Salamanca has participated in previous years through the offices of the Vice Rectorate of Research and Transfer in an effort to establish synergies between science and the primary sector, a critical economic engine of the province.

Juan Manuel Corchado

Full Professor in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, Department of Computer Science and Automation, University of Salamanca, Spain.


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