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Trichoderma: a multipurpose, plant-beneficial microorganism for eco-sustainable agriculture

Abstract

Trichoderma is a cosmopolitan and opportunistic ascomycete fungal genus including species that are of interest to agriculture as direct biological control agents of phytopathogens. Trichoderma utilizes direct antagonism and competition, particularly in the rhizosphere, where it modulates the composition of and interactions with other microorganisms. In its colonization of plants, on the roots or as an endophyte, Trichoderma has evolved the capacity to communicate with the plant and produce numerous multifaceted benefits to its host. The intricacy of this plant–microorganism association has stimulated a marked interest in research on Trichoderma, ranging from its capacity as a plant growth promoter to its ability to prime local and systemic defence responses against biotic and abiotic stresses and to activate transcriptional memory affecting plant responses to future stresses. This Review discusses the ecophysiology and diversity of Trichoderma and the complexity of its relationships in the agroecosystem, highlighting its potential as a direct and indirect biological control agent, biostimulant and biofertilizer, which are useful multipurpose properties for agricultural applications. We also highlight how the present legislative framework might accommodate the demonstrated evidence of Trichoderma proficiency as a plant-beneficial microorganism contributing towards eco-sustainable agriculture.

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Fig. 1: Evolutionary shifts in Trichoderma ecophysiology.
Fig. 2: Trichoderma as a direct biological control agent.
Fig. 3: Trichoderma as an indirect biological control agent, biostimulant and priming inducer.
Fig. 4: Overview of the (potential) contribution of Trichoderma to eco-sustainable agriculture.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to recognize the pioneering work on Trichoderma in agriculture by I. Chet and G. E. Harman that has served as the basis for our understanding of Trichoderma today. S.L.W. and M.L. gratefully acknowledge research funding from the European Union Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program — ECOSTACK (grant agreement no. 773554), the Ministry of University and Research Projects of National Relevance — PRIN 2017 PROSPECT (grant number 2017JLN833), and involvement in the Ministry of University and Research for National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR), National Research Center for Agricultural Technologies (AGRITECH — D.D. n.1032, 17/06/2022) and National Biodiversity Future Center (NBFC — D.D. n.1034, 17/06/2022). S.L.W. wishes to recognize her association with the National Research Council, Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection, Portici, Italy, the Task Force on Microbiome Studies, and the BAT Center-Interuniversity Center for Studies on Bioinspired Agro-Environmental Technology, University of Naples Federico II, Portici, Italy; and thank L. Gioia, G. Manganiello, E. Comite, A. Pironti, S. Lanzuise and M. Ranesi for the technical assistance in the preparation of the manuscript. R.H. and E.M. acknowledge the support of grants co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER) and the governments of Spain (MCIN/AEI PDI-2021-126575OB-I00) and Castile and Leon (SA094P20, Escalera de Excelencia CLU-2018-04 and IR2020-1-USAL05).

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S.L.W. and M.L. conceptualized the idea of this manuscript. S.L.W. and R.H. collected data, designed the content for the article, designed figures and drafted the tables. S.L.W., R.H., M.L. and E.M. contributed substantially to the discussion of the content. S.L.W. and E.M. wrote the article. All authors reviewed and edited the final version of the draft and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sheridan L. Woo.

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Glossary

Agroecosystem

An ecosystem subjected to anthropological activities that are finalized in agricultural production involving the continuous manipulation of biotic and abiotic components to obtain maximum yields and quality of the produce such as food, textile and biofuel plant products, and animal goods.

Biofertilizers

Products that contain living organisms that promote plant growth by increasing the supply or availability of primary nutrients to the host plant.

Biological control agent

(BCA). A natural enemy or antagonistic organism used in plant protection that can inhibit or eliminate harmful organisms and their negative effects through direct or indirect mechanisms of parasitism, antibiosis, competition or induced plant defence.

Bioprotectants

Biological tools providing the protection of plants or the environment from biotic and/or abiotic stress by methods of biocontrol or bioremediation.

Biostimulant

A biological product used to improve plant nutrient use efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, quality traits or availability of confined nutrients in the soil by using components of microbial or non-microbial origins.

Eco-sustainable agriculture

A system that generates increasing prosperity by reducing chemical inputs and implementing alternative methods to minimize negative impacts to the environment, biodiversity, and human and animal health, thus permitting the renewal of natural resources.

Plant protection products

(PPPs). Products consisting of an approved active substance (chemical or biological) with the capacity to protect plants or plant products against harmful organisms, that positively influence the life processes of plants, preserve plant products, destroy undesired plants or parts of plants, or control or prevent undesired growth of plants.

Priming

An adaptive strategy improving plant defence capacity whereby an initial stimulus activates the physiological, transcriptional, metabolic and epigenetic mechanisms that enable the plant to respond more rapidly and/or efficiently to subsequent exposure to biotic or abiotic stress.

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Woo, S.L., Hermosa, R., Lorito, M. et al. Trichoderma: a multipurpose, plant-beneficial microorganism for eco-sustainable agriculture. Nat Rev Microbiol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-022-00819-5

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