University of Dundee

Dr Davide Bulgarelli

Structure, function and host control of the plant microbiota
Principal Investigator
University of Dundee at JHI, Errol Road, Invergowrie, Dundee
Full Telephone: 
+44 (0) 1382 568934, int ext


Plants host remarkable rich and diverse microbial communities in proximity of and within their tissues, designated the plant microbiota. Intriguingly, these associations appear symptomless at first glance, possibly representing a series of mutualistic or symbiotic relationships. Interestingly, experiments performed under laboratory conditions revealed that members of the microbiota provide strategic functions to the plant, such as enhanced mineral acquisition and indirect pathogen protection. However the role and function of the microbiota in a community context is still largely unknown.

My group aims at understanding the structure, function and host control of the microbiota thriving at the root-soil interface. (Figure 1).

Figure 1 - The rhizosphere and root microbiota ( modified from Hirsch & Mauchline Nature Biotechnology 30, 961-962 (2012)).

We use Barley (Hordeum vulgare, Figure 2 ) as a model to unravel the contribution of the microbiota to plant growth and health. Towards this objective we use state of the art metagenomics,  molecular microbiology and computational biology approaches. By exploiting the experimental and molecular resources available for barley, such as  mutants, accessions, and -"omics" tools, we aim to integrate our findings into a plant genetic framework.


Figure 2 Barley plant                               Figure 3 Pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene revelaled an impact of different barley accessions on the rhizospehre and root microbiota.

Our ambition is to gain fundamentally novel insights on the molecular interactions existing between an eukaryotic genome and its associated microbiome. In our vision the generated knowledge will be key to exploit plant-microbiota relationships for the sustainability of barley and other crop production.


I teach molecular plant-soil microbes interactions inthe Level 3 course BS32008 ( Plant Sciences) and the Level 4 course BS42005 ( advanced Plant Sciences).


Alegria Terrazas R, Balbirnie-Cumming K, Morris JA, Hedley PE, Russell J, Paterson E, Baggs EM, Fridman E, Bulgarelli D. 2020. A footprint of plant eco-geographic adaptation on the composition of the barley rhizosphere bacterial microbiota. Scientific Reports. 10(1):Article 12916.

Caradonia F, Ronga D, Catellani M, Azevedo CVG, Alegria Terrazas R, Robertson-Albertyn S, Francia E, Bulgarelli D. 2019. Nitrogen Fertilizers Shape the Composition and Predicted Functions of the Microbiota of Field-Grown Tomato Plants. Phytobiomes Journal . 3(4):315-325.

Escudero-Martinez C, Bulgarelli D. 2019. Tracing the evolutionary routes of plant-microbiota interactions. Current Opinion in Microbiology. 49:34-40.

Morera-Margarit, P., Bulgarelli, D., Pope, T. W., Graham, R. I., Mitchell, C. and Karley, A. J. (2019) The bacterial community associated with adult vine weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus) in UK populations growing on strawberry is dominated by Candidatus Nardonella. Entomol Exp Appl. 167, 186-196

Crecchio, C., Mimmo, T., Bulgarelli, D., Pertot, I., Pii, Y., Perazzolli, M., Scagliola, M. and Cesco, S. (2018) Beneficial Soil Microbiome for Sustainable Agriculture Production. Sustain Agr Rev. 31, 443-481

Pietrangelo L, Bucci A, Maiuro L, Bulgarelli D, Naclerio G. 2018. Unraveling the Composition of the Root-Associated Bacterial Microbiota of Phragmites australis and Typha latifolia. Frontiers in Microbiology. 9:1-13.

Bulgarelli D. 2018. How manipulating the plant microbiome could improve agriculture. Scientist. 32(2).

Rathore R, Dowling DN, Forristal PD, Spink J, Cotter PD, Bulgarelli D, Germaine K. 2017. Crop establishment practices are a driver of the plant microbiota in winter Oilseed Rape (Brassica napus). Frontiers in Microbiology. 8:1-12.

Robertson-Albertyn S, Alegria Terrazas R, Balbirnie K, Blank M, Janiak A, Szarejko I, Chmielewska B, Karcz J, Morris J, Hedley PE, George TS, Bulgarelli D. 2017. Root Hair Mutations Displace the Barley Rhizosphere Microbiota. Frontiers in Plant Science. 8:1-15.,

Alegria Terrazas R., Giles C., Paterson E., Robertson-Albertyn S., Cesco S., Mimmo T., Pii Y., and Bulgarelli D. (2016). Plant-Microbiota Interactions as a Driver of the Mineral Turnover in the Rhizosphere. Advances in Applied Microbiology Academic Press. pp. 1-67.

Bulgarelli D., Garrido Oter R., Muench P., Weiman A., Droege J., Pan Y., McHardy A. and Schulze-Lefert P. (2015) Structure and Functions of the bacterial root microbiota in wild and domesticated barley. Cell Host and Microbe 17:392-403

Schlaeppi K. and Bulgarelli D. (2014) The plant microbiome at work. Molecular Plant Microbe Interactions Journal 28:212-217


Animating Science Project

Animating Science uses stop motion animation to create animated films about Life Science concepts and processes. This film was produced by members of the public in collaboration with my group and animator Andrew Low as part of our annual Plant Power Day 2019 at the University of Dundee Botanic Garden. This project was funded by BBSRC.

Plant Microbiome to the Rescue is a short animation examining the interaction between soil microbes and plants in our very own plant microbiome. It shows the good, the bad and the ugly of the soil microbe world and how they can contribute to the health of many plants.

How can understanding plants and microorganisms help feed the world?

Article aimed at school pupils about the research of Davide Bulgarelli and his career to date in plant sciences. Includes a worksheet for pupils to complete in class.

This article was produced by Futurum, a magazine and online platform aimed at inspiring young people to follow a career in the sciences, research and technology. For more information, teaching resources, and course and career guides, see