Microscope slide of an endophyte
Endophytes are fungal microbes that live in the tissues of varied groups of plants, including many grasses. The endophytic association with pasture grasses is a finely balanced interrelationship whereby each partner is adapted precisely to the other. In general, these relationships are not well understood but they are responsible for debilitating animal diseases.
However, it has also been shown that they are critical for plants’ protection against insect pests. Today new endophyte strains possibly contribute around $200 million each year to the New Zealand economy. Differences amongst endophytes can actually make a greater difference to grass properties than genetic variation of the grass host itself and therefore they have huge impacts on livestock productivity.