Crops under salt stress

Poor quality soil and extreme climatic conditions are reducing crop yields in many countries. Humboldt Fellow Sazzad Hossain is carrying out research at Kiel University to obtain a better understanding of the salt tolerance of crops.

Man in a white coat in a laboratory
© Joachim Welding

Research on living plants: Sazzad Hossain at work in the laboratory at the Institute of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science.

The specific emphasis of Dr Sazzad Hossain’s work in the laboratory at the Institute of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science is on the salt tolerance of sugar beets. But the post-doctoral researcher from Bangladesh is not losing sight of the big picture: how can many millions of people be fed in dry and hot regions where crops do not thrive very well? “The aim of my research is to contribute in the long term to eliminating malnutrition among the population of my home country through increasing crop yields under so-called saline growth conditions,” said the Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He is sponsored under the Georg Forster Research Fellowship programme, which is only open to post-doctoral researchers with above-average qualifications from emerging and developing countries.

His research focuses on the forwarding of signals from plant roots and on the regulation processes in the plasma membrane and cell wall. Sazzad Hossain wants to subsequently build upon the valuable research results obtained from Kiel and apply them in field trials in Bangladesh – and thus actively do something against hunger in a country with almost 170 million inhabitants.

Saline soil caused by long periods of drought poses a problem for most crops south of the equator. “Salt stress inhibits elongation growth, which is also a result of nutritional deficiencies. This can explain the lower crop yields. This is not only a problem in many regions of Asia and Africa, but also, for example, in California,” explained Professor Karl H. Mühling, Managing Director of the Institute. He supports the work of his young colleague and is pleased that Dr Hossain wants to completely decipher the complex physiological processes of salt stress in sugar beets in the excellently equipped laboratory at the institute. “The results can be transferred to many other crops, such as rice.” Ultimately, plants could withstand salt stress with certain genetic alterations and deliver good yields in problematic soil,” Professor Mühling explained.

The agricultural scientist, who had already been working as an assistant professor in Bangladesh, can now carry out research in Kiel for two years. “My stay in Kiel is like winning a prize. Here I can continue my previous research on salt stress to such an extent that I will be able to start field trials in Bangladesh,” the 38 year old said. The Humboldt Research Fellowship is also important for his scientific career and will help him in becoming a professor at home. Hossain is now also a member of the Humboldt community and may return to Germany for sponsored research visits.

Mühling explained how above all, the heart of the laboratory and the testing station at the institute close to the new botanical gardens enable post-doctoral researchers to make significant advances in their research. In addition to working with the laser microscope, the micro spectrofluorimeter opens up a whole range of research possibilities. “We are able to work on living plants without physical contact and to also compile measurement series, for example with regard to the pH value, and produce 3D documentation.” In this way, spatial and temporal changes can be documented and shared with other researchers.

Professor Mühling emphasised that the research stays by foreign guests are also an enrichment for the institute. In August, a post-doctoral researcher from Pakistan will start her research on campus as the fourth Humboldt Fellow.

Author: Joachim Welding

Georg Forster Research Fellowship

With the Georg Forster Fellowship, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation sponsors researchers with above-average qualifications in all disciplines from developing and threshold countries except China and India. Postdocs can carry out research at host universities for a period of between 6 and 24 months. In addition to the monthly fellowship amount the support provided includes intensive German language courses and family allowances. After the research visit, the guest researchers can stay in contact with the Humboldt community via alumni programmes – networking is an important part of research around the world. (wel)