Dr Davide Bulgarelli

Project Title: A rhizosphere transplantation approach to elucidate the role of the microbiome for plant growth and nitrogen uptake

By 2050 the world’s population is expected to reach 9.5 billion and, to achieve global food security, crop production must increase by 60% in the same timeframe. This target represents an unprecedented challenge for agriculture as it must be achieved while progressively decoupling yields from non-renewable inputs in the environment such as chemical fertilisers.

A promising strategy proposes to capitalise on the microbial communities thriving in the rhizosphere, the thin layer of soil surrounding plant roots, and collectively referred to as the rhizosphere microbiome. Like the microbiome populating vertebrate’s gut, the rhizosphere microbiome can improve (or interfere with) plant performance.

In our proposal, we will study the role of the rhizosphere microbiome for plant growth and nitrogen uptake, a key nutrient for crop production. In detail, we will “swap” the microbiome of a cultivated variety of Barley (Hordeum vulgare) with the one inhabiting the rhizosphere of a wild relative, an approach designated ‘rhizosphere transplantation’. Next, we will determine whether the transplanted microbiome confers a beneficial effect on growth and nitrogen uptake of the recipient plants. Finally, we will use DNA sequencing technologies to perform a ‘microbial census’ of the rhizosphere and identify members of the microbiome promoting (or repressing) plant performance.

This will allow us to gain novel insights into the interactions between plants and their associated microbiomes. In the future, this knowledge can be then used to enhance sustainable crop production.

Awarded: Research Incentive Grant

Field: Plant Sciences

University: University of Dundee

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