First-ever engineered plant microbiome protects crops against diseases

Researchers from the University of Southampton, China and Austria have successfully engineered the microbiome of plants for the first time to boost crop health by increasing the presence of good bacteria in plants. The findings of the paper published in Nature Communications could reduce the need and reliance on pesticides that are usually harmful to the environment.

Microbiomes in the human gut influence the immune system, which will fight against disease-causing organisms. In plants, microbiomes such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms present in roots, stems, and leaves affect the vulnerability of plants to various diseases.

The international research team discovered that one specific gene found in the lignin biosynthesis cluster of the rice plant is involved in shaping its microbiome.

First, the researchers observed that when this gene was deactivated, there was a decrease in the population of certain beneficial bacteria. When they did the opposite, over-expressing the gene, the proportion of beneficial bacteria in the plant microbiome increased. The results showed that the engineered plants are more resistant to bacterial blight in rice crops, a common cause of yield losses in Asian countries.

Currently, the researchers are exploring the presence of other beneficial microbes to improve plant health further.

Su, P. et al. Microbiome homeostasis on rice leaves is regulated by a precursor molecule of lignin biosynthesis. Nat Commun 15, 23 (2024).

Source: Biotech Updates

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