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Domestication Made Plants Lose Ability to Interact with Soil Microbes, Says Research

Research led by the University of California, Riverside shows that as domestication of plants yielded larger crops, it also had a negative effect on the way plants interact with their microbiomes. Domesticated plants became more dependent on fertilizer than their wild relatives, as they lost their ability to interact with soil microbes that provide beneficial nutrients. Senior author Joel Sachs explains, “We’re so focused on above ground traits that we’ve been able to massively reshape plants while ignoring a suite of other characteristics and have inadvertently bred plants with degraded capacity to gain benefits from microbes.” This has contributed to energy consumption and pollution related to the manufacture and use of fertilizers for plants. Although microbial soil amendments are coming on the market now, some domesticated plants may have lost the ability to benefit from them. “If we’re going to fix these problems, we need to figure out which traits have been lost and which useful traits have been maintained in the wild relative,” Sachs said. “Then breed the wild and domesticated together to recover those traits.”