The underground world is a lively place, with plant roots, soil microbes, and other underground organisms waging a continual battle for resources. Plant roots take an active role in this conflict through the exudation of various chemicals, yet key areas of this process remain mysterious: what genes and gene networks control exudation? How do plant root exudates influence the microbial community of the soil, and how far does this influence extend from the plant root? Finally, if plant roots do play a large role in soil microbial composition, what effect does plant biodiversity have on soil microbial biodiversity?
Our studies in this area have proceeded on several fronts. On the first front, we’ve looked at how a specific set of genes, the ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter genes, influences root exudation. On another front, we’ve examined how plant root exudates influence the soil microbial community. Current studies involve the analysis of how specific Arabidopsis ABC transporter mutants and root exudates derived from those plants could influence microbial communities and the expression of genes within those communities.
Bringing together a combined understanding of root-microbiome interactions is likely to redefine the goals and practices of agricultural management and sustainability.