Trophobiosis: The Science of Nutrititional Balance

It would be accurate to say we live in a hazardous world. Any of us could be involved in a deadly accident, get shot by a demented killer, or succumb to a terminal disease. Yet, a person can significantly increase their odds of living a long incident free life, by being sensible, strong and healthy. If you think we live in a dangerous world, think about a grass plant living on USGA putting green.

Imagine how traumatic your world would be, if you were cut and slashed to within an inch of your life, practically every day of your existence. Next you're forced to compete for vital nutrition with friends, family, and enemies. You live in an environment where food and water are in short supply. In addition you have little control over the food and water supply, so you must depend on a caretaker to provide supplements to keep you alive. Regrettably the only way you have to communicate is to show symptoms that you're sick or dying. And that's only above ground. Your home is a battlefield called dirt. You survive in your own waste. The older you get, the harder it is to keep your head above water. Still, the worst part of your life is that you're surrounded by organisms who want to steal your food and water, eat you, infect you, and live inside of you.

I guess your life is not all that bad when you put everything in perspective. However, if you've read this far you must be a caretaker of those trillions of creatures mentioned above. So what is the best way to keep all these little plants alive? You give them just the right amount of water, you supply oxygen to their roots, you protect them from antagonists, and you feed them a balanced diet.

It's a fact that a healthy plant has the strength to fight off plant diseases that are caused by nutrient deficiency. However, knowing this does not assure your turf will never get a disease, simply because there are many factors out of your control. There are nutrients in irrigation water, rain water, and in the atmosphere which impact the soil more than can be compensated for by applying fertilizers. Nonetheless, by taking a scientific approach of testing, tracking, and applying only what is needed gives the greatest chance of having healthy turf which is immune to the attack of pathogens.

The science of nutritional balance is called trophobiosis. Trophobiosis is easy to understand, but challenging to achieve. The first lesson you learned in Pest 101 is that a healthy plant is the best defense against pests. Trophobiosis is just an in-depth study of this theory. The entire basis of this theory is the more nutritionally balanced the plant, the more resistant or immune it will be to a parasitic pest. A plant that has superior resistance will rarely require chemical treatment, regardless if pathogens are present in the soil.

Let's take a minute and focus in on Liebig's Law of the Minimum which simply states a plant is only as strong as its weakest link. There is also a law of maximums, also known as antagonistic deficiencies. This law states if a plant absorbs a nutrient in excess, it will create a plant deficiency of another nutrient.

A deficiency of any nutrient causes a change in a plants physiology. However, deficiencies in micro-nutrients have the biggest impact on protein synthesis. This is because micro-nutrients are primarily responsible for enzymatic reactions which link and convert amino acid chains into proteins. Manganese, chloride, and boron are activators of enzymes, while copper, iron, zinc, and molybdenum are components of enzymes.

When a plant fails to produce sufficient amounts of protein to achieve its biological purpose, it begins to consume nutrients at an accelerated rate, especially nitrogen. Although the plant can take up any nutrient in excess, nitrogen is usually the nutrient causing most of the antagonistic deficiencies.

If even one micronutrient is deficient, many necessary enzymatic reactions will not occur. If essential enzymes are not produced, the conversion of amino acids into proteins will be inhibited. Inhibition of protein development causes the plant to accumulate amino acids and sugars faster than it can use them. The plant cannot store all the sugars and acids being produced, so it pushes them into the rizosphere. The predominant amino acids pushed out of the plant are asparagines, glycine, aspartic acid, and gluyamic acid. These four amino acids are fundamental nutritional factors for the development of pathogenic fungi.

There are two more facts to trophobiosis: chemicals alter plant physiology, while microbial activity enhances plant physiology.

Chemicals are often poisonous to the target pest as well as the plant that it is intended to protect. The usual effect of the chemical damage is that it converts proteins back into amino acids. The excess amino acid then becomes a food source for the target pest that survives the poison. My thoughts are the chemical approach seems to be a circle of death.

There is also a microbial involvement in the trophobiosis equation. All living organisms have some level of intelligence, including plants and microbes. When the plant secretes amino acids and sugars into the rizosphere, it sends a signal to the microbes the need for help. PGR's (Plant Growing Rizobiolbacteria) ingests chemically-bonded nutrients in the soil, immobilizing them until they die. As the microbial bodies decompose, they make macro and micronutrients available to the plant in the form of enzymes, the very enzymes the plant requires to produce protein. This approach is the circle of life.

Every Golf Course Superintendent in the world has had grass die. Every Golf Course Superintendent in the world has also had to apply pesticides to keep grass from dying. So, does that mean all of us are bad caretakers? Of course not! However, every Superintendent I know is incessantly looking for ways to do a better job. I believe the healthier a Superintendent can make a plant the better job they will do. What's the best way to keep a plant healthy? Feed it what it needs, and don't feed it something it already has enough of or has in excess.

If you are interested in learning about trophobiosis, I recommend you buy the book, "Healthy Crops - a New Agricultural Revolution" written by Francis Chaboussou. After reading this book if you are inspired to provide a more healthy diet for your turf, Turf Dietitian will be pleased to help. Our goal at Turf Dietitian is simple, we want to help you do achieve your goal of the perfect green.

Turf Dietitian's tissue testing lab makes it affordable for you to test weekly. Because we work off of precise nutrient ratios instead of target ranges, we can assist you in building weekly foliar and soil spray programs which address the exact need of the plant each week. The long term benefit of providing a balanced diet for the plant is a more consistently healthy plant that requires fewer chemicals.