When plants first emerged, it was into a world already colonised by microorganisms. Plant-microbe interactions influence the reproductive success of both partners and so plants have literally co-evolved with microbes for millions of years. For this reason, the plant together with its microorganisms (i.e. the holobiont) is being viewed as an appropriate unit of evolutionary selection. Mutalistic (win-win) interactions are likely to prosper within a holobiont as these enhance holobiont fitness. In the context of plants, it is likely that when stressed they release signals that attract microbes able to alleviate stress (e.g. mobilise nutrients or defend against attack). These mechanisms are likely to be encoded in plant genomes but have become weakened by crop breeding and applications of agrochemicals. For example, plant breeders typically focus on attributes like height or grain size and have not considered microbial diversity as a trait. Likewise, if plants are supplied fertiliser or pesticide, their reliance on microbes to enhance nutrition or fight disease is diminished.

In this project we will use high-throughput sequencing to characterise the microorganisms associated with wheat, sorghum and their wild relatives. This will reveal genes associated with recruitment of the root microbiome that can be used to develop more sustainable farming systems. The project will involve input from Dr Paul Dennis (microbiomes), Dr Lee Hickey (wheat) and Prof Ian Godwin (sorghum).

Supervisor: Dr Paul Dennis

Project members