Master's thesis on fungal structures in agricultural systems reads like a novel

Published on
June 20, 2022

Four WUR students were awarded prizes last Friday during the award ceremony of the Thesis Award 2021 of the University Fund Wageningen. Corentin Bisot won in the field of environmental sciences with his thesis on the growth behavior of soil fungi and was honored as the overall winner. According to the jury, Selena Koene, Carolina Sarzana and Sanne Put wrote the best theses within the domains of life sciences, social sciences and agrotechnology and food sciences.

For his master's thesis, Corentin Bisot (MSc Earth and Environment) conducted research into the growth behavior of so-called Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi under various environmental conditions. These soil fungi create large, complex underground networks and form a symbiotic relationship with various plants and trees. They pass on nutrients from the soil to the plant, and in return receive carbon resources. A well-functioning network can make a positive contribution to the nutrient cycle in agricultural systems, and a better understanding of how these underground networks grow can give us clues on how to stimulate optimal symbiosis.

Growth and branching of fungus

Bisot looked at the effects of temperature and the presence of nutrients in the soil on the way the fungus grows and branches out. He did this by an enormous amount of high-resolution photographs of the growth of the fungus in petri dishes under different conditions, for which he used a recently developed robotic set-up. He then analyzed this data with various algorithms and was able to come to some interesting conclusions about the growth of the fungi. For example, the fungi grow faster at high temperatures, adapt their growth patterns to existing structures, and branch out more when there is an uneven distribution of insoluble nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil.

About the Thesis Award

The Thesis Award is an annual prize of the University Fund Wageningen and is intended for WUR students who have written an excellent thesis (rated with a 9 or higher) in the master's phase of their studies. As the overall winner, Bisot received €1000 and a bronze sculpture of the 'Wageningen tree' by Sjoerd Buisman. The other three domain winners each received €500.

Bisot not only made use of new techniques and brought to light interesting findings, but he also proved to be a good writer, according to the jury: “His thesis is well-structured, well-illustrated and well-written; basically, it reads like a novel, in which the reader becomes eager to learn how the next hurdles have been taken.”

Bisot's findings contribute to the development of a model that can be used in an agronomic context. Before that happens, however, a lot of research still needs to be done on other aspects of the growth of these fungi.

Award ceremony

The award ceremony took place on campus for the first time in two years this year, during a special day for donors, the Friends of the University Fund Wageningen, who financially support the Thesis Award. The winners received their prize in the presence of dozens of Friends, the jury members, the winners, supervisors and chair holders, and family and friends of the winners. This year's jury chairman was Francine Govers, Professor of Molecular Phytopathology at Laboratory of Phytopathology of WUR.

Other winners and theses

Agrotechnology and Food Sciences
Selena Koene, Plant Biotechnology & Molecular Life Science
Thesis title: Biomolecular condensates as vaccine delivery systems
Supervisor: Siddharth Deshpande (Physical Chemistry and Soft Matter)

Social Sciences
Carolina Sarzana
, Organic Agriculture
Thesis title: Social-ecological resilience of the shea butter value chain upstream end: the case of Beninese shea agroforestry parklands
Supervisor: Verina Ingram (Forest & Nature Policy), Paul Struik (Crop Systems Analysis)

Life Sciences
Sanne Put
, Plant Biotechnology
Thesis title: Unraveling nuclear natural variation under fluctuating light conditions reveals the complexity of photosynthesis
Supervisor: Tom Theeuwen and Mark Aarts (Laboratory of Genetics)