Indo-Swiss Supported Bioirrigation Project Launched

Swiss National Science Foundation and Department of Biotechnology of Government of India, funded Bioirrigation facilitated by mycorrhiza (BIOFAM) project meeting commenced on 28 April 2021 at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai. The meeting was on virtual mode where scientists, consultants and students participated from both countries–India and Switzerland.

When a deep-rooted plant which hydraulically lift water from soil moisture and redistribute it to a neighboring shallow-rooted plant which cannot access deep soil moisture is known as Bioirrigation. BIOFAM network is one of the projects funded under the Indo-Swiss Joint Research Programme (ISJRP).

Sustainable land use is one of the big challenges for plant science in coming years. The potential of intercropping would be a promising low-input intervention strategy in this area.

In dryland agriculture, deep-rooting plants, intercropped within shallow-rooting ones, may act as "bioirrigators" that can transfer water from deep soil layers to the topsoil for the benefit of the system.Recent experiments have shown that bioirrigation is facilitated by the presence of a common mycorrhizal network (CMN) shared by the intercropped plants.

The objective of the research, scientists and researchers proposed in this project, is to identify the morphological, physiological and competitive traits that make plants ideal bioirrigators in CMN facilitated intercropping systems.

With this research, Scientists would establish the basic knowledge that allow installing effective CMN facilitated bioirrigation in intercropping systems as a measure to stabilize and increase the yield of small holder or subsistence farmers in dryland agriculture. Scientists will perform a series of experiments at different levels of complexity with finger millet as target plant for bioirrigation and different legume species (cow pea, pigeon pea, lab lab) as potential bioirrigators.

The inaugural meeting started with a welcome address by Dr. K.S. Murali, Executive Director, MSSRF followed by Prof. Ansgar Kahmen, University of Basel, Switzerland.

Prof. Kahmen presented an overview of the research goals while, the project coordinator Dr. N. Mathimaran presented about the collaboration model and human resources involved in the project. Principal investigators of the project are Prof. Ansgar Kahmen, Dr. N. Mathimaran, Dr. R. Rengalakshmi, and Dr. A. Nirmala Kumari, who presented their respective project workplans.

Besides discussion over various experiments and expected outcome of the project, participants also underlined challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic.