Plant-Microbe Interactions Involved in Promoting Plant Health and Bioenergy Production Grant uri icon


  • Plant health is the net result of complex interactions between the plant and its environment. An essential component of this environment is the plant microbiome, e.g. microorganisms living on or inside the plant. Plants exude a significant amount of their total fixed carbon as rhizodeposition, e.g. a nutrient source for soil organisms. In turn, microbial cells colonizing plants reach numbers that exceed the number of plant cells that make up their host. Thus the plant microbiome, especially the rhizosphere microbiome, can be thought of as the "second plant genome" and more importantly as a useful tool for enhancing plant health by enhancing resistance to abiotic and biotic stresses. Given future predictions of population growth rates and the need for doubling our food supply amidst growing limitations in water, nutrients and arable land, understanding how to effectively utilize the second plant genome represents an untapped potential for feeding our world and improving agricultural sustainability. The intimate associations between plants and microorganisms encompass beneficial, neutral, detrimental, and pathogenic associations. The effects of deleterious or pathogenic microorganisms on plants can be ameliorated via biological control strategies, e.g. by the introduction or enhancement of bacterial populations that reduce the impact of pathogens on the plant. Many of the most effective biological control strains produce secondary metabolites that interfere with the pathogen's disease potential either by direct inhibition of pathogen growth, induction of plant defenses, enhancement of plant growth, or a combination of these. We now know much about the types of secondary metabolites produced by efficacious biological control agents, how they are regulated, and some of the roles they play in plant-microbe interactions important for biological control (1, 2, 3,4). However, microorganisms introduced for biological control and the pathogens they limit are only a subset of a complex plant microbiome and it is unknown how biological control agents and their microbial products affect other plant-beneficial symbionts or alter plant interactions with other aspects of their environment including stress and insects. Thus, plant-beneficial bacteria and the secondary metabolites they produce represent key ecological control points, e.g. opportunities for manipulating plant-microbe interactions to promote plant health. Furthermore, because plant-associated bacteria also are specialists in utilizing plant-derived carbon, study of the capabilities of these specialists provides opportunities for developing microbial platforms for microbial degradation of plant biomass for bioenergy generation. The objectives of this proposal build on opportunities identified in ongoing research in several areas related to using the plant microbiome to improve plant health and bioenergy production

date/time interval

  • 2015 - 2020