A smoky solution — for plants

After MU researchers started examining the impact of smoke on plant growth after a wildfire, their surprising discovery could one day lead to new farming practices.

Oct. 18, 2022
Contact: Eric Stann, 573-882-3346, StannE@missouri.edu  

The scientists used the radioisotope carbon-11 — created by a cyclotron at the University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR) — to help them trace how smoke impacts a sunflower’s vascular system, or the system that transports carbon, water and micronutrients throughout the plant.

Richard Ferrieri never thought a simple bottle of liquid smoke would change the trajectory of his team’s research. Originally, Ferrieri and a team of researchers at the University of Missouri focused on studying how soil, saturated by the intense smoke caused by wildfires, alters plant growth. But after they began their research, they made a surprising discovery with the popular food additive — and they believe the finding could one day be used to improve the health of food crops.

Ferrieri, a research professor in the Department of Chemistry and investigator at the University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR), said when the team added liquid smoke to the soil where a plant is growing, the researchers found it could enhance the plant’s natural defenses and increase its ability to resist pests and diseases. Liquid smoke, created by condensing smoke from burning wood, was used to provide a simulation — in a laboratory setting — of the smoky conditions a wildfire could create.

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