Department of Horticultural Sciences, Cornell University, Geneva, NY 14456.
Trichoderma spp. are endophytic plant symbionts that are widely used as seed treatments to control diseases and to enhance plant growth and yield. Although some recent work has been published on their abilities to alleviate abiotic stresses, specific knowledge of mechanisms, abilities to control multiple plant stress factors, their effects on seed and seedlings is lacking. We examined the effects of seed treatment with T. harzianum strain T22 on germination of seed exposed to biotic stress (seed and seedling disease caused by Pythium ultimum) and abiotic stresses (osmotic, salinity, chilling, or heat stress). We also evaluated the ability of the beneficial fungus to overcome physiological stress (poor seed quality induced by seed aging). If seed were not under any of the stresses noted above, T22 generally had little effect upon seedling performance. However, under stress, treated seed germinated consistently faster and more uniformly than untreated seeds whether the stress was osmotic, salt, or suboptimal temperatures. The consistent response to varying stresses suggests a common mechanism through which the plant–fungus association enhances tolerance to a wide range of abiotic stresses as well as biotic stress. A common factor that negatively affects plants under these stress conditions is accumulation of toxic reactive oxygen species (ROS), and we tested the hypothesis that T22 reduced damages resulting from accumulation of ROS in stressed plants. Treatment of seeds reduced accumulation of lipid peroxides in seedlings under osmotic stress or in aged seeds. In addition, we showed that the effect of exogenous application of an antioxidant, glutathione, or application of T22, resulted in a similar positive effect on seed germination under osmotic stress or in aged seed. This evidence supports the model that T. harzianum strain T22 increases seedling vigor and ameliorates stress by inducing physiological protection in plants against oxidative damage.