Microbial Plant Endophytic Fungi: Sustainable Solutions for a Hungry World

Microbial Plant Endophytic Fungi: Sustainable Solutions for a Hungry World
Dr. Gary Harman, Professor, Department of Horticulture; Chief Scientific Officer, Terrenew LLC; and
Inventor and Equity Holder, Advanced Biological Marketing
Fungi in the genus Trichoderma have been known since the 1930s as biocontrol agents for plant
diseases. Recent advances in genomics have permitted discovery of the fact that they are endophytic
plant symbionts. A few highly selected stains have excellent abilities to colonize plant roots. Once they
infect the roots they establish chemical communication with plants and cause the plant to wall off the
infecting hyphae. While in their environment, they continue to live and to communicate with the plants and
induce systemic changes in plant and protein gene expression. This change causes the plants to
increase their level of resistance to disease; to enhance resistance to abiotic stresses such as drought
and salt, and to increase the nitrogen fertilizer use efficiency (NUE). Plant shoot and root growth is
frequently enhanced. All of this requires more energy from photosynthesis, and the fungi increase
photosynthetic efficiency. Levels of antioxidants in fruit and vegetables may also be increased. All of
these new-found capabilities increase plant productivity in field crops and can substantially increase farm
profitability. In developing countries, the fungi can make the difference between adequate crop yields and
no yield at all. These properties also make possible a wide range of unique and useful new products,
such as fertilizers that do not pollute waterways with nitrate.
Dr. Harman received his BS from Colorado State University (1966) and his PhD at Oregon State
University (1970). After a short postdoctoral position at NC State University, he was appointed an
Assistant Professor at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva. He
rose through the ranks and achieved full Professorship in 1984. He has served as acting chair and chair
of the Department of Horticultural Sciences. He has published about 170 reviewed papers or invited
reviews. He also is the author of more than 20 patents. He has been at the forefront of the development
of microbial biocontrol agents and plant endophytic fungi, including starting several companies that
produce and manufacture the organisms. Recent advances in –omics have demonstrated that these fungi
have many more capabilities than was originally envisioned, and they have the potential to help feed a
hungry world. He is a fellow of the American Phytopathological Society, has received the Award of Merit
from the NE divison of this society and has received the research excellence award from the worldwide
Trichoderma and Gliocladium research community.