Biological seed treatment offers a safe, environmentally responsible option for protection of seeds and seedlings from attack by soilborne pathogens. Most effective biological seed treatments have used either bacterial or fungal agents. The efficacy of a biological seed treatment depends upon the ability of the biocontrol agent to compete and function on the seed and in the rhizosphere under diverse conditions of soil pH, nutrient level, moisture, temperature, and disease pressure. Seed treatment performance may be improved through application and formulation technology. An example of this is the bio-priming seed treatment, a combination of seed priming and inoculation with Pseudomonas aureofaciens AB254, which was originally developed for protection of sh-2 sweet corn from Pythium ultimum seed decay. Bio-priming has been evaluated for protection of seed of sweet corn and other crops under a range of soil environmental conditions.
Penicillium oxalicum is a seed- and soilborne fungal pathogen that causes preemergence damping-off and postemergence seedling blight of sweet corn, While seed infection and infestation by P. oxalicum is common, the amount of injury observed in the field is variable. Our objective was to determine factors influencing the occurrence and severity of disease due to P. oxalicum. Inoculation of sh-2 sweet corn seeds with conidia of P. oxalicum reduced seedling emergence and resulted in seedling mortality. Disease severity in the greenhouse and the field was greater as inoculum density increased from ≈ 102 to 106 conidia per seed. Increasing soil temperatures after planting inoculated seed resulted in more preemergence damping-off. Penicillium oxalicum is capable of growth and sporulation in soil that is too dry for seed germination. Nontreated (naturally infected) sh-2 sweet corn seeds or seeds inoculated with P. oxalicum were incubated in pasteurized soil that had been adjusted to various moisture levels-all too low for seed germination. Increasing soil moisture was associated with visible growth of Penicillium spp. on seed after incubation, and greater levels of damping-off and seedling blight when the seed was planted.
In field experiments, bio-priming and coating with Pseudomonas fluorescens AB254 consistently protected sweet corn (Zea mays L.) seeds from preemergence damping-off caused by Pythium ultimum Trow. The bio-priming seed treatment was evaluated under various disease pressures and with seeds of three sweet corn genotypes: shrunken-2 supersweet (sh-2), sugary enhancer (se), and sugary (su). While no damping-off occurred in the su sweet corn, bio-priming protected sh-2 and se sweet corn seeds at a level equivalent to that obtained by treatment with the fungicide metalaxyl. Biopriming increased seedling height of all three sweet corn genotypes at 4 weeks post-planting. Coating of sweet corn seeds with P. fluorescens AB254 provided an equivalent degree of protection from damping-off under all but the most severe conditions.
Shrunken-2 supersweet (sh2) sweet corn is susceptible to preemergence damping-off caused by Pythium ultimum, especially when planted into cold soil. Bio-priming, a seed treatment which combines the establishment of a bioprotectant on the seed with preplant seed hydration, was developed to protect seeds from damping-off.
In a series of field experiments conducted in Montana's Bitterroot and Gallatin Valleys, bio-priming or seed bacterization with Pseudomonas fluorescens AB254 protected sweet corn from P. ultimum damping-off. Bio-priming corn seed with P. fluorescens AB254 was comparable to treatment with the fungicide metalaxyl in increasing seedling emergence. Seedlings from bio-primed seeds emerged from the soil more rapidly than from nontreated seeds and were larger at three weeks postplanting. Seeds of sh 2 and sugary enhancer (se) sweet corn, as well as that of several sh 2 cultivars, were protected from damping-off by bio-priming.