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Wageningen in Research on Microbial Imprinting for Crop Resilience

Within the Zwaartekracht programme, Wageningen researchers prof. Marcel Dicke (Entomology) and prof. Christa Testerink (Plant Physiology) are partners in the huge scientific programme MiCRop. The goal is to unlock how plants under stress recruit beneficial root microbes. For the research team with partners in the Free University Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University and NIOO-KNAW, there will be a budget of 20,3 million euros to carry out scientific research programmes in the coming years.

The Minister for Education, Culture and Science (OCW), Ingrid van Engelshoven, made this funding available in the research programme Zwaartekracht, for research consortia that are among the best in the world in their field in carrying out groundbreaking research. The Dutch Research Council (NWO) announced today.

Microbes are important for all organisms
The research team headed by Prof. Harro Bouwmeester of the University of Amsterdam (and former professor at Wageningen University) writes to introduce their MiCRop research programme: “We are witnessing a new imperative in the life sciences with the realisation that microbes are important drivers, rather than passengers, of the wellbeing of plants, animals and humans. Host-associated microbiomes, also referred to as “the second genome of eukaryotes”, have a largely unexplored potential to expand the genomic capabilities of their hosts - providing enhanced host immunity, ingenious nutrient acquisition systems, improved host architecture, and tolerance to environmental stress. This paradigm shift comes with new scientific challenges to address key societal problems of the 21st century, in particular the increased global demands for crops that are more resilient to (a)biotic stress (i.e. drought, diseases, pests) and less dependent on fertilisers and pesticides.”

Next generation, stress-resilient crops
Plants recruit and nurture billions of microbes on their roots. In return, the root microbiome supports the plant by improving the uptake of nutrients, enhancing tolerance to environmental stress and providing protection against pests and diseases. The research programme MiCRop will unlock how plants under stress recruit these beneficial root microbes. The team will harness the yet unknown plant and microbial traits that facilitate this interaction, and translate their potential for the development of next generation, stress-resilient crops that require less fertilisers and pesticides.

Plant roots house one of the most diverse, yet vastly neglected, microbial communities on Earth. Despite increasing recognition of their importance for plant growth, development and health, exploring and exploiting the yet untapped potential of these complex microbial communities remains one of the greatest scientific endeavors of our time. With MiCRop the reaeachers will disentangle the complexity and functionality of plant root-associated microbiomes to harness their genomic potential as a new platform for improved stress resilience of our future crops to meet the challenges of sustainable food production

Research programme
Wageningen University & Research will contribute to the research programme with experience on resilience of crop resistance to abiotic stress such as drought and insects. This research programme focusses on plants being active organisms that respond to stress with the recruitment of beneficial soil microbes (a kind of underground ‘cry for help’), just as plants ‘cry for help’ aboveground to recruit bodyguards that attack insect herbivores.

The team will unlock how wild and cultivated plant species, across the plant kingdom, recruit their microbial partners to cope with environmental stress, maximize nutrient uptake, optimize growth and prime their immune system and second, harness microbiome functions to optimize future crop resilience and performance in a changing climate.

The multidisciplinary team will identify opportunities for future plant breeding at an unprecedented scale. The focus is on understanding stress-adaptive microbiomes and their active recruitment by plants across the plant kingdom. With precision-based methods, the team will analyse the root microbiome dynamics of 100 wild and cultivated plant species - related to the 5 most important food crop families (Brassicaceae, Solanaceae, Fabaceae, Graminaea and Cucurbitaceae) – grown under four major types of environmental stress (nutrient deficiency, drought, pathogen infection, herbivory). This highly ambitious effort will provide unrivalled insight into the evolution and potential of wild plant and crop species across the plant kingdom to select, assemble, and benefit from their microbiomes.


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