Unlocking the power of the microbiome

Arabidopsis ©sylviamartinez

Not only animals and humans host a complex community of microorganisms – plants do this as well. Researchers at ETH Zurich just published two new studies that shed light on fundamental aspects of these close – and often overlooked – relationships.

Hundreds of different bacterial species live in and on leaves and roots of plants. A research team led by Julia Vorholt from the Institute of Microbiology at ETH Zurich, together with colleagues in Germany, first inventoried and categorised these bacteria six years ago. Back then, they isolated 224 strains from the various bacterial groups that live on the leaves of thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). These can be assembled into simplified, or “synthetic” plant microbiomes. The researchers thus laid the foundations for their two new studies, which were just published in the journals Nature Plants and Nature Microbiology.

For Julia Vorholt, the two studies show that synthetic microbiomes are a promising approach to investigating the complex interactions within different communities. “Since we can control and precisely engineer the communities, we can do much more than just observe what happens. In addition to simply determining cause and effect, we can understand them on a molecular level,” Vorholt says. An ideal microbiome protects plants from diseases while also making them more resilient to drought and salty conditions. This is why the agricultural industry is among those interested in the team’s results. They should help farmers harness the power of the microbiome in the future.

Prof. Julia Vorholt is a member of the Swiss Plant Science Web.

Reference publications
Maier BA, Kiefer P, Field CM, Hemmerle L, Bortfeld-Miller M, Emmenegger B, Schäfer M, Pfeilmeier S, Sunagawa S, Vogel CM, and Vorholt JA.
A general non-self response as part of plant immunity.
Nat Plants 7: 696–705 (2021). doi: 10.1038/s41477-021-00913-1.

Pfeilmeier S, Petti GC, Bortfeld-Miller M, Daniel B, Field CM, Sunagawa S, and Vorholt JA.
The plant NADPH oxidase RBOHD is required for microbiota homeostasis in leaves.
Nat Microbiol (2021). doi: 10.1038/s41564-021-00929-5.

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