A Plant Scientist in Dundee has been awarded almost £1.25 million to study the interaction between plants and soil microbes, with the ultimate aim of boosting sustainable food production. Dr Davide Bulgarelli, a principal investigator at the Division of Plant Sciences based at the James Hutton Institute, has been awarded two research grants each exceeding £620,000 from the European Commission and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
As part of the first grant, Dr Bulgarelli will participate in a Horizon 2020 research programme coordinated by the University of Bologna, which will involve 29 partners from 14 European countries. The project aims to develop microbiome-based applications for food production across several food chains and will see academics work with SMEs and other stakeholders to expedite the translational application of research discoveries.
“One of the most pressing questions for this research area is how to rationally predict the outcome of plant-microbiome interactions under agriculture-relevant conditions,” said Dr Bulgarelli. “The cross-Europe consortium has the expertise and resource to address this question and I look forward to validating, under these conditions, discoveries we made in the lab in the last few years.”
The second award will see Dr Bulgarelli explore the causal genetic variants that underpin differential bacterial recruitment in the plant rhizosphere, the thin layer of soil surrounding plant roots. This basic research is relevant for sustainable crop production as knowing the plant genes shaping the microbiome will allow breeders to develop crops less dependent on chemical inputs and more resilient to climatic changes.
“For many years we have known plants can shape the microbial communities surrounding their roots but the genes underpinning these interactions, in particular for crop plants, remain poorly understood,” he explained. “We recently discovered a portion of the genomes of barley, a global crop, modulating the assembly of several bacteria in the rhizosphere. In this research we will use state-of-the art experimental and computational approaches to characterise the plant genes present on this portion of the barley genome.
“This proposal will involve also Professors Robbie Waugh, from Plant Sciences, and Geoff Barton, Head of Computational Biology, and brings together seemingly unrelated research fields such as metagenomics and plant genetics to generate complex, multidimensional data. Our complementary expertise and skills put us in the ideal position to dissect such complex information.”
Three postdoctoral positions and one technical assistant position will also be created at Dundee’s School of Life Sciences as a result of these awards.