Growing the ginger industry using science…and natural remedies
Issued: 1 Feb 2018

Senior research officer Dr Jady Li from CQUniversity explains how she is researching non-toxic methods to benefit ginger crops.

Senior research officer Dr Jady Li from CQUniversity explains how she is researching non-toxic methods to benefit ginger crops.

Ginger is an economically important crop in south-east Queensland, generating $126 million per year, with its tasty produce added to brewed drinks, confectionery and a range of other ginger products.

In recent years, the ginger industry has experienced declining yield and significant crop losses due to a number of disease forming organisms found in the soil. This includes one called a ‘root-knot nematode’ or in other words, a worm-like animal which causes significant damage to the underground section of plants such as the roots.

Affected plants have stunted growth with leaves that become yellow and die. The infected ginger plants mature and dry faster and die sooner than healthy ones, resulting in a poor harvest.

Currently, many growers rely on chemicals added to the soil to kill these disease causing organisms and reduce the damage. Several of these chemicals have been removed from the market in the last four decades, and many of the remaining ones are detrimental to human health and the environment.

That’s why there has been increasing interest in the development of alternative methods of control, including the use of biological control agents (naturally occurring predators). One exciting and rapidly developing research area is the use of fungi for controlling root-knot nematode.

Currently, very few of these biological control (biocontrol) agents have been registered as plant protection products. The main reason for this is that the agents will have different impacts dependent on the site conditions such as soil conditions, nematode species present and nematode population density. It is important to understand how these factors influence the effectiveness of the agents and the ability to develop products that work.

In a Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation-funded Science and Innovation Award project, we tested the effectiveness of two fungi (Arthrobotrys dactyloides and A. oligospora) in controlling root-knot nematode in both lab and glasshouse experiments.

Microscope image (1/4 CMA (40x) showing fungi (A. dactyloides) trapping root-knot nematode on a ginger root. Photography: Karli Groves

The results showed real potential with the fungi significantly reducing the amount of damage caused by the nematode.

Further research is required to understand the interactions between the fungi and other microorganisms in the soil but we’re making head-way. How exciting to think that by using biocontrol (naturally-occurring substances) we may be able to help the ginger industry with their pest problems!

Thanks to Dr Jady Li for her blog to help us promote the great science happening in Queensland.

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