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Utilising microbial community dynamics to shape beneficial plant root microbiomes

Principal Supervisor: Dr. Patrick Schäfer, School of Life Sciences

Non-academic partner: Novozymes

University of registration: University of Warwick

Project title: Utilising microbial community dynamics to shape beneficial plant root microbiomes

Project outline:

As the world’s environment changes it is essential that we produce crop plants adapted to these changes. At the root-soil interface (so called rhizosphere of plants), plants are in contact with thousands of different species of microbes (mostly bacteria and fungi). These microbes form a complex community (microbiome), interact with roots and depending on the composition of microbiomes (e.g. prevalence of symbionts or pathogens), can have either beneficial or detrimental effects on the root and, hence, plant. As well as bringing nutritional enhancement, beneficial microbiomes confer additional benefits to improve plant productivity, such as enhanced plant stress resistance to adverse environmental conditions or pathogen attack. Despite the complexity of root microbiomes, their composition is dynamic and can be reshaped by plants to serve plant development and stress integration. There is compelling evidence that microbes can form functional sub-microbiomes consisting of a small number of microbes with defined functions. Whereas the organisation in sub-microbiomes can enhance the competitiveness and functionality (ecological plasticity) of individual microbes in different environments, the ability to form sub-microbiomes can be utilised to sustainably improve the beneficial activity of the entire root microbiome. By creating mini-microbiomes with different beneficial functions the project aims at providing solutions of high relevance for sustaining crop productivity and food security.

The student will apply state-of-the-art non-invasive imaging, comprehensive microbiome analyses (e.g. metagenome sequencing) and bioinformatic approaches to discover fundamental mechanisms that determine root microbiome dynamics. The studies will consider plant and microbe-derived key factors involved in shaping beneficial root microbiomes.

Closing date for applications: - 27th April 2018

Interview date: TBC

Check eligibilty and apply