Rationally Designed Microbial Communities to Improve Plant Resilience

Over the coming decades new strategies will be needed to secure sufficient food production for a growing world population. Rationally designed communities with plant growth promoting (PGP) microorganisms facilitate plant growth. This can be achieved directly, by either assisting in resource acquisition (nitrogen, phosphorus and essential minerals) or by modulating plant hormone levels.

Alternatively, indirect modulation can be achieved by decreasing the inhibitory effects of various pathogens and saprophytes on growth and development. Research on the functioning of microbial communities in natural ecosystems is greatly hampered by their complexity even when the simplest ecosystems are considered. Working in a synthetic biology framework, we propose a reverse approach building from designed minimal stabilized communities to construct microbial communities that improve plant performance. Spearheaded by the ongoing project on artificial microbial communities1, which will result in the characterization of components and building blocks, this project will be targeted towards the design of assemblies leading to optimized plant performance. The design will be based on functional genomic characterization of community components, identification of desired rhizotypes (plant analogue to enterotypes) and model-driven assembly of components needed to drive the community composition towards the desired rhizotype. The computational strategy will be both guided and validated using highly advanced molecular biological tools and phenotyping facilities that allow real-time, non-invasive monitoring of plant and microbes. We aim to generate and validate standard operating procedures to construct Designed Microbial Communities (DMC) that promote plant growth and plant health.