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Mykotown Greentech AG uses mycorrhiza to keep plants going

The symbiosis between fungi and plant roots is one of the most fascinating beneficial plant associations in the forest in which fungi and plants exchange vital substances. This is an association that is successfully used by Mykotown Greentech AG for enhancing the growth of plants.

This company is in the described form no longer active in the market.

Endomycorrhiza penetrate the cortical cells of roots where they form highly branched arbuscules. The best known arbuscular mycorrhiza are: Glomus Intraradices, Glomus Etunicatum, Glomus Fasciculatum and Glomus Mosseae © Mykotown Greentech AG

Mycorrhiza (Greek: mykes = fungus, rhiza = root) are part of a mutualistic association with plants. The fungus is in contact with the fine roots of a plant. The plants provide the natural soil fungi with carbon, while the fungi help the plant to capture nutrients and liquids from the soil. Small threads (hyphae) run through the soil, enter the tiniest soil pores and harvest water and nutrients which are then supplied to the roots. For Mykotown Greentech AG the interaction between mycorrhiza and plants has turned out to be worthwhile. Using the results gained in BMBF- and EU-funded projects in 2004, the company has since developed the research into a marketable mass product. The biologically pure fungal granules can be used in private gardens as well as in horticulture and landscaping to promote the growth of all kinds of plants.

Fungi and plants as partners in times of stress

Mykotown Greentech AG, which is headquartered in the Swiss city of Walchwil (Canton Zug) and has a subsidiary in Constance (Germany) has worked with the Institute for Innovative Technologies in Dessau (Köthen) for the last eight years on the development of mycorrhiza vaccines through the immobilisation of active fungal spores on an inorganic carrier matrix, consisting of small pieces of expanded clay. The vaccines are based on two natural soil fungi species, ectomycorrhiza and endomycorrhiza (arbuscular mycorrhiza). “Ectomycorrhiza do not intrude the individual root cells, but remain between the cells of the root bark where the hyphae form a net that surrounds the plant cells within the root cortex,” explained Oliver Hubold, President and CEO of the company. Endomycorrhiza are the oldest and most common type of mycorrhiza, formed by more of 80 percent of all plants. The mycorrhizas’ hyphae enter the root cells and branch into arbuscules. Therefore, this type of mycorrhiza is also referred to endotrophic mycorrhiza. The secret behind Mykotown’s mycorrhiza is their ability to bind to specific Danish clay spheres, which are known from hydroculture for example.

Mature arbuscules with finely branched hyphae © Mycotown Greentech AG

"The mycorrhiza species were collected from ideal natural locations, for example areas that had soil value numbers of 80 to 100, and subsequently proliferated in small greenhouses and in the laboratory in order to generate a starting inoculum for use in large-scale production," reports Oliver Hubold. The mycorrhiza have been expanded from this initial batch. Field tests and benefit analyses involved the use of specific test methods, including MPN (most probable number test) to calculate the number of infectious fungus units in an inoculum as well as the counting of spores. The fertiliser fungi are grown under sterile conditions using marigold exposed to diverse drying and moisture stress phases. "Fungi and plants become partners in stress situations," said Oliver Hubold. Mykotown intends to produce about 2,000 cubic metres of mycorrhiza per year from 2009 onwards.

Protection against heavy metals, enhancement in value of soil

Vegetation cover consisting of grasses without (left) and with mycorrhiza (right). © Mykotown Greentech AG

Besides having a positive effect on plant growth, the mycorrhiza preparations also help to permanently improve the soil structures. Mykotown recently succeeded in developing a product that prevents the absorption of heavy metals and other soil pollutants, and that drives forward the application of soil fungi in the phytoremediation in heavily contaminated areas in the Ukraine and Russia.

The company has since developed a product portfolio for a large number of applications, including mycorrhiza for specific geographic areas. "The biggest difference is the number of spores per litre, which might range between 100,000 and 1,000,000 spores," explains Oliver Hubold. The larger the number of spores, the quicker the onset of symbiosis. There are also differences in the matrix materials. Expanded clay is used most, but the company can also use turf, bark, sand and slate. "The type of matrix used depends on the further application, whether it will be used together with other substances or on its own," said Hubold.

Focusing on expansion and social commitment

Oliver Hubold, President and CEO of Mykotown Greentech AG © Markus Hotz/Akzent-Magazin

Mykotown works with university institutes and independent scientific research institutions in Switzerland, Germany and Austria in order to develop combination products for use in specific areas. "In future, we will be able to offer our smaller clients capsules that will enable the simple application of mycorrhiza," said Oliver Hubold. The product is almost ready and will most likely be launched in 2010. Other objectives of the company are the further reduction of the production price and the expansion of the company. Last year, Mykotown relocated its headquarters to Lake Constance.

The company has three employees in Constance and two in Walchwil, but hopes to be able to create further jobs, mainly in sales. The company's subsidiary, "Professor Mykos Düngerpilze GmbH", supplies mycorrhiza products to small clients. "We are currently looking for further distribution partners and investors, both for the industrial and small client area, since the products are not yet sold in many specialist shops," said Oliver Hubold.
New partners can benefit from the long-term success of the company. The company's philosophy is strongly connected with social commitment. For many years, the final product has been filled in a workshop for handicapped people at the company's former headquarters in Dessau. Oliver Hubold is planning to continue this way of working at the company's new headquarters at Lake Constance.

Further information:
MYKOTOWN GREENTECH AG
Oliver Hubold
President and Chief Executive
78467 Konstanz
Lohnerhofstr. 2
Tel.: +49 (0)7531 / 8926-2314
Fax: +49(0)7531 / 8926-2315
Mobile: +49(0)177 / 34 95 88 4
E-mail: hubold(at)mykotown.ch

Website address: https://www.biooekonomie-bw.de/en/articles/news/mykotown-greentech-ag-uses-mycorrhiza-to-keep-plants-going