Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Plant-microbe interactions

Which microorganisms live near and inside plant roots? How do they contribute to plant health? Can microorganisms be employed in plant protection?

Duration
2015  -   2018
Contact
Gilles van Wezel
Funding
NWO STW NWO STW
Partners

Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)

The aim of this study is to decipher the structural and functional diversity of microorganisms in the rhizosphere and root interior (endophytes) of crop plants, and to determine their effects on plant growth, development & health.

Microbes and plant roots: a strong interplay

Plant roots are colonised by an astounding number of microorganisms that can reach cell densities much greater than the number of plant cells. Many root-associated microorganisms have profound effects on plant growth & development, nutrition, and tolerance to abiotic and biotic stress factors. Biosynthetic pathways for plant hormones have been identified in bacteria. Conversely, plants also significantly affect the behaviour of microorganisms. To date, the interplay between plants and beneficial microorganisms has been studied in depth for symbiotic rhizobia and mycorrhizal fungi. However, for the vast majority of root-associated microorganisms there is limited fundamental knowledge of their impact on plant growth and health.

Studying the microbiology of crop roots

Over the past century, plant breeders have exploited genes from ancestors of modern crop species to improve plant performance and productivity. Similarly, entomologists have explored native habitats to identify natural enemies of insect pests. In the area of rhizosphere microbiology, however, very few efforts have been made to study the biodiversity and functions of beneficial microbial communities associated with the roots of ancestors of modern crop species.

Utilizing microbiology to improve plant growth & health

The overall goal of this STW program is to decipher the structural and functional diversity of microorganisms in the rhizosphere and root interior (endophytes) of ancestors of modern crop plants, and to determine their effects on plant growth, development & health. The outcome of this program will provide fundamental insight into i) microbial diversity of native plant species and native habitats, ii) microbiome assembly by plant and environmental cues, and iii) beneficial microorganisms, mechanisms, and metabolites that promote plant growth & development, that affect plant quality, and that enhance tolerance to abiotic and biotic stress factors.

Connection with other research

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