banner
photo courtesy of Britt Koskella lab
photo courtesy of Britt Koskella lab

Much as in humans, a healthy microbiome can help ensure that plants are resistant to pathogens. In a study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, researchers used experimental evolution to identify the core microbiome of commercial tomatoes by searching for microbial communities that could defend against random microbes landing on the plants. The findings indicate that the plant microbiome could be manipulated with probiotics to create crops that require less fertilizer and pesticides while still producing robust yields.

During the experiments, four successive generations of plants were sprayed with the microbiomes of the previous generation. The microbial community of each tomato type was nurtured through generations so it could adapt to each strain, eliminate maladapted microbes, and help well-adapted ones to grow. By the fourth generation, the original microbial taxa accounted for only 25%, with the remaining 75% going extinct.

“That is really interesting in itself because it suggests that a lot of the microbes out there aren’t well-adapted, they are kind of there by chance,” explained study leader Britt Koskella, in a press release. “The wind blew them there, rain splashed them there, but they are not thriving, they are likely not adapted to that particular environment.”

When a mixture of microbes—50% taken from the partially adapted microbiome of the first generation and 50% from the fourth generation—was sprayed on the tomato plants, the fourth-generation microbes prevailed, indicating they were better adapted to the tomato.

Koskella finds the results encouraging. “We already know that, in theory, you can select for microbes that perform particular functions: increased yield, drought tolerance or disease resistance, for example,” she said. “We are showing here that you can, in principle, create a microbial community that has the function you are interested in, but also is uninvadable, because it is really well-adapted to that plant.”

The researchers are conducting additional experiments to discover if the selected microbiome actually improves plant health, resilience, and productivity, and if the integration of probiotic microbes can successfully deliver lasting crop benefits.

More from IFT right arrow

Resilience, Hope, and Mercy

Consultant and nutrition specialist Mercy Lung’aho advocates for a healthier food system throughout sub-Saharan Africa. She shares how a blend of life experience, cultural awareness, and political savvy inform her daily work as a scientist and challenges her peers to prioritize interdisciplinary dialogue to address food system challenges.

Moisture Meter Tackles Mycotoxins in Ghana's Grains

Miranda Grizio relates the story of the creation of a low-cost moisture meter that is keeping grain safer in Ghana.

Holding the Line on Food Loss

Food companies are waking up to opportunities to reduce food lost during processing, setting ambitious goals, and finding value in byproducts and side streams. It’s not easy.

The Science Behind the Pucker

Formulators of plant-based foods want their products to taste less astringent. So an engineer, a food scientist, and an oral biologist are teaming up to solve the problem.

Latest News right arrow

Call to action for stronger, better-funded federal nutrition research

According to a group of research, policy, and government experts, the United States needs to strengthen and increase funding for federal nutrition research and improve cross-governmental coordination in order to accelerate discoveries, grow the economy, and—most importantly—improve public health, food/nutrition security, and population resilience.

Report identifies 27 countries heading for COVID-19-driven food crises

New analysis by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Program (WFP) identifies 27 countries that are on the frontline of impending COVID-19-driven food crises, as the pandemic’s knock-on effects aggravate pre-existing drivers of hunger.

Amazon unveils ‘smart’ shopping cart

According to the Associated Press, Amazon has debuted a new smart shopping cart called the Dash Cart.

FAO predicts a global shortage of protein-rich foods

According to the Cornell Alliance for Science, a new report out from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations predicts there will be a global shortage of protein-rich foods this year due to COVID-19 and other factors.

FAO partners to promote food security in vulnerable countries

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been accredited as an implementing partner of the Adaptation Fund and will work with the international fund on projects to help vulnerable countries fight the harmful effects of climate change.