Instead of using dangerous and toxic pesticides or expensive fertilizers, farmers may one day use microbes to fully manage diseases in soil. Already the microbial community in and surrounding plant roots fights pests and manages carbon and other soil nutrients, ultimately contributing to plant health and growth. What’s more, they aid plants in sequestering pollutants. Despite this, much about the process remains unknown.
Lead researchers from the DOE Joint Genome Institute and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, dug to the root of plant-microbe interaction in a new study featured on the cover of the August 2 issue of the journal Nature. The paper identifies key microbial players surrounding and in the roots of Arabidopsis thaliana, a plant often used in experiments due to its rapid life cycle, and the first plant to have its genome sequenced. The study identified more than 750 operational taxonomic units (genetically distinct groups of microbes, similar to species) in soil and plant samples. Scientists are then able to extrapolate the metabolic functions of these groups of microbes.
Although each plant and its community differ, this study offers a valuable data point of how plants and microbes work together.
“We can’t really know a plant genome’s full functional capacity until we also understand the functional capacity and the drivers governing assembly of its associated microbiome,” said co-author Susannah Tringe, head of the DOE JGI’s MetagenomeProgram.