Rodale Institute, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the Department of Pharmacology and Penn State Mass Spectrometry Core Facility at Penn State University, and the Department of Public Health Sciences at Penn State University conducted a study on soil and human health published by Plants People Planet.

February 21, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • This research aims to find ways to get ergothioneine (ERGO), which is found in soil bacteria and is important for human health, through understanding arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF).
  • Researchers found that when they exposed crops to AMF, there were higher levels of ERGO.
  • This information is crucial for farmers to help them come up with farming methods that will increase levels of ERGO in crops.


Societal Impact Statement

Evidence has emerged that the antioxidant ergothioneine may be important in preventing many inflammatory diseases in humans. However, ergothioneine is not produced by humans or plants and is only made by fungi and some bacteria in soils. As such, humans get ergothioneine from eating fungi (mushrooms) or plants that take it up from the soil. In this study, we found that growing plants with beneficial fungi called arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi increased the amount of ergothioneine in plant tissues. This suggests that promoting agricultural practices that maintain healthy populations of beneficial soil fungi may improve the nutritional quality of crops.


The amino acid ergothioneine (ERGO) has recently gained attention as an antioxidant that benefits human health. ERGO is produced by fungi and mycobacteria in soils and is acquired only from diet. The mechanism by which ERGO is transferred from soil to plant is unknown. Recent work has shown that tillage reduces the amount of ERGO in crops. As tillage also reduces arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) populations, we examined the relationship between AMF and plant ERGO uptake.

We grew asparagus, black beans, wheat, and oats with a variety of single and mixed species AMF inocula and compared ERGO levels of these plants to plants that were uninoculated.

Mycorrhizal inoculation enhanced ERGO content across all plants. There was a positive correlation between AMF colonization level and plant ERGO content.

AMF appear to be important mediators of plant ERGO uptake. Future research is needed to identify the mechanism that leads to higher ERGO in plants colonized by AMF in order to promote farming practices that enhance AMF populations and increase crop ERGO concentration in field settings.

For the full research article visit Plants People Planet.