Fulvic acid increases forage legume growth inducing preferential upregulation of nodulation and signalling‐related genes

Nicola M Capstaff, Freddie Morrison, Jitender Cheema, Paul Brett, Lionel Hill, Juan C. Muñoz-García, Yaroslav Khimyak, Claire Domoney, Anthony J Miller

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The use of potential biostimulants is of broad interest in plant science for improving yields. The application of a humic derivative called fulvic acid (FA) may improve forage crop production. FA is an uncharacterized mixture of chemicals and, although it has been reported to increase growth parameters in many species including legumes, its mode of action remains unclear. Previous studies of the action of FA have lacked appropriate controls, and few have included field trials. Here we report yield increases due to FA application in three European Medicago sativa cultivars, in studies which include the appropriate nutritional controls which hitherto have not been used. No significant growth stimulation was seen after FA treatment in grass species in this study at the treatment rate tested. Direct application to bacteria increased Rhizobium growth and, in M. sativa trials, root nodulation was stimulated. RNA transcriptional analysis of FA-treated plants revealed up-regulation of many important early nodulation signalling genes after only 3 d. Experiments in plate, glasshouse, and field environments showed yield increases, providing substantial evidence for the use of FA to benefit M. sativa forage production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5689–5704
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number18
Early online date30 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sep 2020


  • Forage crops
  • Fulvic acid
  • Humic substances
  • Medicago sativa
  • Nodulation
  • Transcriptomic analysis
  • Yield

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