Plant microbiomes – more than just contamination
Plants have a community of microbes associated with them, known as a microbiome. Some of these microbes are detrimental to the plant, causing disease and ultimately killing the plant. Other microbes are beneficial, e.g. helping the plant acquire nutrients and fend off these pathogens. In total, this consortium of microscopic organisms is a huge, largely untapped source of new tools to improve outcomes for crops.
However, despite the promise of new ways to improve plant health, microbiomes are extremely complicated communities of individual species. This means knowing the important species in microbiomes, how to reliably introduce new species, and how to push the community to behave in a desired manner is still largely unknown.
Mapping a microbiome
We are working towards identifying the characteristic functions shared by healthy, productive plant microbiomes. By combining modern techniques such as transcriptomics and metabolomics, we are able to build insights into the plant’s microbiome in unprecedented detail. Through these insights, we are building a predictive framework from which plant microbiomes can be tailored for more productive and sustainable agriculture.
One of the biggest drivers of a plant’s microbiome is the soil in which they grow. Thanks to pioneering efforts of previous CSIRO research, we have access to a range of microbes known to help plants thrive. Furthermore, by integrating traditional microbiology approaches with ‘omics’ techniques mentioned above, we are finding which genes and metabolites are responsible for the beneficial effects conferred by these microbes. This approach allows us to zoom out from a single microbe and assess whole communities at a time.
Dedicated efforts into microbiome science
Many of the challenges faced during research into plant microbiomes are shared across many fields of microbiome research. Furthermore, the outcomes of healthy plant microbiomes have powerful flow-on effects, such as healthier soils, crops, livestock, and ultimately people. These aspects of shared challenges and interconnected benefits led to the creation of the Microbiomes for One System Health (MOSH) Future Science Platform.
This Future Science Platform brings together scientists studying microbiomes of diverse origins, such as insects, livestock, soils, crops, horticultural produce and humans. This collaboration aims to answer some of the biggest questions in microbiome research, such as: how are microbiomes connected? How can we predict the outcome of changes in microbiomes? And how can we make meaningful interventions into microbiomes for better health outcomes?