Background: Elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum Schumach) and Hybrid Pennisetum (Pennisetum americanum × P. purpureum Schumach) are tall, fast-growing perennial C4 bunchgrasses that have been in recent developed as the most appropriate biomass feedstock in many countries for exploring various biofuel products. However, the challenges of increasing plant biomass yield and enhancing their stress tolerance, especially on marginal lands, have been existed for a long while. In the past several years, bacterial endophytes used as bio-fertilizers for improving crop production have offered an opportunity to facilitate high biomass yield of energy crops in a more sustainable manner.
Results: A total of 16 endophytic bacteria strains were isolated and purified from the roots of elephant grass, which were classified into four bacterial genera: Sphingomonas, Pantoea, Bacillus, and Enterobacter. Four strains, pp01, pp02, pp04, and pp06, represented four different genera, were then selected and tested in vitro for their plant growth promoting properties, effects on plant growth and salt stress tolerance of Hybrid Pennisetum. The inoculation with these four bacterial mixture demonstrated a significant plant growth promotion for Hybrid Pennisetum from the normal to salt stress conditions at 0, 50, 100, and 200 mM NaCl, respectively. The highest promotion rate for biomass yield was 116.01 and 81.72 % for shoot fresh weight and dry weight, respectively. The bacterial strains tested were shown to solubilize insoluble phosphate, fix nitrogen, produce indole acetic acid and ammonia, but only strains from Sphingomonas, Bacillus, and Enterobacter can produce siderophore. In addition, the endophyte strains tested were all able to successfully colonize the roots of Hybrid Pennisetum, reaching upto 12.12 ± 0.98 CFU/g fresh roots at the 3rd day of inoculation.
Conclusion: The four endophytic bacteria from elephant grass significantly promoted plant growth and biomass yield, alleviated the harmful effects of salt stress on Hybrid Pennisetum. These bacteria have indicated some unique properties that are very valuable for exploiting bio-inoculants aiding in the efforts to establish a sustainable and large-scale feedstock production system for Hybrid Pennisetum, particularly, on the saline marginal lands.
Keywords: Elephant grass; Endophytic bacteria; Hybrid Pennisetum; Plant growth promoting effect; Plant growth promoting properties; Salt stress tolerance.