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While adding salt to plant foods being cooked is generally perceived as a necessity, adding salt to food crops growing in fields is not. However, the Earth’s soil is becoming more saline, and as it does, growing crops becomes more difficult or impossible. Scientists at Brigham Young University (BYU) may have discovered a way to prevent soil salinity from ruining crops and crop yields.

Climate change, soil erosion, soil degradation, and depleting freshwater resources all contribute to a steady rise in soil salinity. Reusing the same land repeatedly to grow crops also increases the salinity of arable soil. The increasing salinity of arable soil causes billions of dollars in crop losses every year. But there are some plants that are naturally tolerant of salty soil; these include crops such as barley, rye, safflower, and sugar beets. Researchers at BYU have determined that the roots of plants that are naturally salt tolerant contain certain bacteria that play a role in salt tolerance.

After isolating two types of bacteria that foster the growth of plants in salty soils, the BYU scientists used the bacteria to inoculate alfalfa seeds, which should make alfalfa plants grown from the inoculated seeds more tolerant of salt. In laboratory and greenhouse studies, the scientists planted the inoculated alfalfa seeds in high-salt conditions, and the alfalfa grew very well. The BYU researchers concluded in a press release that it may now be possible to grow crops in soils with high salinity by inoculating the seeds with bacteria from salt-tolerant plants.

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