Barley Microbiome

This project seeks to develop capabilities to predictably manipulate microbiome composition, to help guide the development of varieties capable of conjugating profitable yield with a reduced footprint on the environment.

The rhizosphere, the thin layer of soil tightly adhering to roots, is a habitat for distinct microbial communities collectively referred to as the rhizosphere microbiome. The rhizosphere microbiome engages in associations with plant roots involving parasitism, commensalism and mutualism. For example, so-called plant-growth-promoting rhizobacteria can act as ‘plant probiotics’ by increasing plant mineral uptake and protecting crops from pathogens. Therefore, the capability to manipulate these interactions will be one of the keys to sustainably enhance crop production.

The research team previously demonstrated that modern Elite varieties and wild barley ancestors host distinct microbiomes, possibly representing a footprint of plant domestication on the microbial communities inhabiting the rhizosphere. They recently extended this line of investigation by characterising the microbiota of a bi-parental population between an elite variety and a wild barley ancestor. By combining microbial sequencing profiles, as ‘quantitative traits’, with barley genomic information they have compiled a map of the plant loci shaping the rhizosphere microbiome.

In this project, the team will capitalise on these discoveries and a range of computational and experimental approaches to resolve these loci at a gene level. This will represent a fundamental pre-requisite to predictably manipulate microbiome composition. In turn, the generated knowledge will guide the development of varieties capable of conjugating profitable yield with a reduced footprint on the environment.

Project leader: Dr Davide Bulgarelli (University of Dundee), Co-investigators: Prof Robbie Waugh (IBH) and Prof Geoff Barton (University of Dundee)

Funding: UKRI-BBSRC Responsive Mode BB/S002871/1