Student: Ben Dankle, Undergraduate Student in Microbiology, Iowa State University
Research Mentor: Gwyn Beattie
Maximizing Plant Growth in a Drought Stressed Environment by Exploiting the Root Microbiome
As the world continues to grow in population the demand for higher crop yields will continue to grow. Droughts are increasing in frequency and intensity, and drought conditions can significantly decrease crop yields. The focus of this research is to help plants withstand drought stress by exploiting beneficial interactions with bacteria. The interactions between the soil microbiota and plants are complex but offer opportunities for specific members or groups of the root microbiome to help plants tolerate stresses, such as by regulating hormones or increasing access to water. When the environment changes, for example under drought, the nature of this relationship changes. Many research studies are currently focused on identifying the key root microbiome members that change when plants sense stress, and which members help the plants. In this study, we will evaluate how root microbiome members proficient in potential plant-beneficial functions influence plant stress tolerance. We hypothesize that several of these key microbial functions will detectably improve plant growth under drought stress. In addition, we will evaluate how the cumulative effects of multiple key functions will contribute to plant protection compared to multiple approaches of a single key function. pared to the effects of an individual inoculum. The study aims to provide insight into the roles that bacterial communities can play in maintaining plant yields in the face of drought.