Getting to the root of drought: Unlocking plant-soil-microbiome interactions in the rhizosphere that regulate drought responses
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Droughts are expected to increase in intensity and duration, which can limit agricultural productivity and sustainability. Drought affects both plant and soil microbial activities as well as their growth, reproduction, and community composition. The relationship between the rhizosphere microbiome and plant roots can determine the health and productivity of the host plant. This is especially relevant in the context of environmental perturbations such as drought. Despite advances in our abilities to sequence soil microorganisms, identifying root-soil-microbiome interactions that ultimately regulate plant response to drought remains a major knowledge gap. Cotton is a major U.S. fiber crop that is often grown in drought-prone areas (e.g., Southern High Plains of Texas) and can be used as a model crop to understand microbial-mediated drought tolerance. Here we propose to identify feedback mechanisms between roots and the rhizosphere microbiome that govern the growth and productivity of cotton in response to drought. Improving our understanding of plant-microbiome interactions can provide biological insight for managing and maintaining agricultural productivity in drought conditions. Furthermore, it has the potential to identify mechanisms of drought stress tolerance that can be exploited through microbial inoculants and breeding in a wide variety of crops, in order to save water, reduce irrigation costs, and decrease competition for water resources. Our proposal directly applies to the Agriculture Microbiomes Program Area as they both seek to better understand the interactions among host (i.e., plant), environment, and the microbiome through characterizing the microbial and molecular mechanisms or signal exchange with respect to drought tolerance.