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Bacterial Solubilization Of Mineral Phosphates: Historical Perspective And Future Prospects

Alan H. Goldstein

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AbstractMaximum crop yields require sufficient phosphorus fertilization. Only phosphate in a soluble ionic form (Pi) is effective as a mineral nutrient. Current fertilizer technology supplies the soil solution with Pi via the application of large amounts of phosphate salts. Problems with this technology include energy-intensive production processes, the need for large scale mechanical application with associated environmental consequences, and reprecipitation of the phosphate into insoluble mineral complexes. It has been estimated that in some soils up to 75% of applied phosphate fertilizer may be lost to the plant because of mineral phase reprecipitation. Many approaches, ranging from cultural practices to biological inoculants such as mycorrhizal fungi, are being employed to enhance P-use efficiency. One area that is currently under-investigated is the ability of certain types of bacteria to solubilize mineral and organic phosphates. A review of the literature in the area of bacterial phosphate solubilization confirms that this trait is displayed by a wide range of bacteria. The phosphate starvation inducible (PSI) organic phosphate-solubilizing capability of E. coli is a component of a coordinately regulated gene system: the pho regulon. It has long been known that bacteria are also capable of solubilizing mineral phosphates such as hydroxyapatite. To date there has been no systematic study of the genetics of this phenomenon. Data from my laboratory indicate that the bacterial mineral phosphate-solubilizing (MPS) trait is regulated by the external level of Pi This conclusion is supported by results obtained from several types of molecular genetic studies. It is proposed that bacteria have mineral phosphate solubilizing (mps) genes. The potential agronomic applications of bacterial mineral and organic P solubilizing systems are discussed.