Plants are in constant interactions with a large diversity of microorganisms, that belong to various biological kingdoms including archaea, bacteria, fungi and protista. In nature, these inter-kingdom interactions can be both cooperative and detrimental to the host-plants. My major research focus is to understand the dynamics of inter-kingdom microbiome-interactions and how it affects the crop production. We use cutting-edge culture-independent (metagenomics, metatranscriptomics and metabolomics) and culture-dependent (culturomics) methods combined with computational biology. We especially employ a systematics-based approach, so that we can identify individual organisms involved in these interactions, their biological functions, impacts on neighboring niches, and metabolic activity.
Current research projects
The research has several direct biotechnological applications, and the research in our lab focuses on the following:
1. Develop bioferlitizers/biopesticides: By disentangling the microbial functions that are essential for different growth stages of crop plants, we intend to develop "soil probiotics" to improve crop health. In order to achieve this, we study natural ecosystems and wild plants related to crops. The technology developed will be sustainable and environmentally friendly. Our current research focuses on developing microbial inoculum assemblages from teosinte (ancestor of modern maize) and transferring the microbiota to maize to improve pest and pathogen resistance.
2. Pathobiomes of plants: The concept of pathobiome is an emerging field in pathogen biology. In recent times, it has been noted that pathogens do not act alone in natural ecosystems, but along with a mob of other microorganisms. Deciphering the interaction between a plant pathogen and its associated microbiomes is necessary to understand pathogensis and also to design control measures. Research in my lab specifically focusses on mycosphere bacterial microbiota of pathogenic fungi. Our recent research focusses on pathobiomes associated with Fusarium wilt of cotton.
3. Indicators of microbial dysbiosis: Dysbiosis is a microbial imbalance caused by perturbation in an ecosystem or a niche. Plant microbiomes experience dysbiosis during biotic (disease) and abiotic (drought, flooding, heat etc) stress. We study dysbiosis to understand shift in microbial processes, detect stress indicators and design stress alleviation measures including developing microbial inoculum (biofertilizers).