The giant cardon cactus (Pachycereus pringlei) of the volcanic region of the Baja California Sur mountain range often manages to grow on nothing more than bare rock. A recently published paper in Environmental and Experimental Botany reveals how it accomplishes this extraordinary feat: by allowing rock dissolving bacteria to grow on and in its roots (Puente et al 2009).
It turns out that the endophytic bacteria help the plant to grow by fixing nitrogen and dissolving minerals, thus releasing significant amounts of nutrients from the unpromising substrate.
Symbiotic relationships of this kind are not only fascinating in and of themselves, but also of great interest to creationists thinking about the role played by microorganisms in the original creation. An excellent introduction to this theme is Joe Francis’ paper, ‘The organosubstrate of life’, first published in the Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism and now helpfully available on the Answers in Genesis website (Francis 2003).
Francis J. W. 2003. The organosubstrate of life: a creationist perspective of microbes and viruses. In: Ivey, R. L., Jr. (editor). Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pp.433-444.
Puente M. E., Li C. Y. and Bashan Y. 2009. Endophytic bacteria in cacti seeds can improve the development of cactus seedlings. Environmental and Experimental Botany 66:402-408.