[permaculture] UNL lab finds microbes found in soil may affect plant growth | News | dailynebraskan.com
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Tue Nov 28 12:56:24 EST 2017
UNL lab finds microbes found in soil may affect plant growth | News |
Professor Daniel Schachtman stands in front of his lab in the Beadle Center
for a portrait on Nov. 21, 2017, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Schachtman is
leading a research team focused on the interaction between plant roots and
soil microbes and the genetics of abiotic stress tolerance in plants.
A University of Nebraska-Lincoln lab has found that microbes living in soil
affect the way plants grow in certain conditions, such as drought or high
The Root and Soil Microbiome Lab conducted field research and controlled
studies of plants and microbes to determine their mutual effects on each
“There is a whole other world in soil,” graduate research assistant Morgan
McPherson said. “... The interactions between the microbiome and plants
growing in the soil is so immense.”
Plants are also able to affect the microbes found in their roots and the
surrounding soil. According to Daniel Schachtman, director of the Center
for Biotechnology and founder of the lab, plants exude substances such as
hormones, amino acids and proteins, which can affect the surrounding soil’s
microbiome, or mini ecosystem of microorganisms.
Schachtman and his team focused on understanding how plants control their
microbiomes and how the microbes affect plant growth. Abiotic stress
factors such as drought or high PH soils can slow plant growth. With
certain microbes present, the plants are able to avoid these negative
effects of abiotic stress.
The lab’s research began with descriptive studies about the changes in root
microbes in conditions with high levels of CO2 and ozone gases. Since then,
Schachtman has performed more descriptive field studies that “take census”
of plants and their microbiomes in various conditions. During these
studies, he and his team also gather microbes for its collection of 3,600
Through these descriptive studies, Schachtman has built a foundation of
knowledge from which he can start testing more specific hypotheses. With
the collection of 3,600 microbes, the lab can test certain microbes in
controlled conditions in order to measure their individual effects on plant
“Say, for example, this microbe is more abundant under drought conditions,”
Schachtman said. “What’s its function? What is it doing there? Are all the
other microbes just dying or is this one something that is useful to a
One such study of specific microbes involved growing them in isolated
plates in order to see if they could produce their own nitrogen. By
isolating the microbes from soil and plants, the researchers can begin to
understand the current unknown functions of microbes.
According to Schachtman, microbes in the human stomach have been studied
extensively for the past 15 years, but still, not much is known about the
interactions between microbes and plants. Through his research, Schachtman
is attempting closing this gap in knowledge.[image: Inline image 1]
Bert Devilbiss, a lab technician, shows Morgan McPherson, a Ph.D student, a
sample of soil bacteria in the lab, on Nov. 21, 2017, in Lincoln, Nebraska.
They are both assisting Prof. Daniel Schachtman in his research.
Schachtman and his team are also studying the secretions of hormones,
proteins and amino acids that plants exude during abiotic stress. In one
project, 400 corn lines are planted into tubes of glass seeds, and the
roots are soaked in alkaline solution for a few hours at a time.
The corn roots’ secretions are then drained out and measured. Their
composition can help the researchers understand the root’s reaction to
stress and how this reaction could affect the surrounding soil’s microbiome.
McPherson is also testing her own hypotheses in two independent experiments
run through Schachtman’s lab. The first tests the response of soybean
plants and the surrounding microbes to alkaline soil in agricultural
fields. The second experiment gathers native plants and microbes in various
levels of alkaline soils in Nebraska’s sandhills ecosystem.
In both experiments, McPherson processes her soil and root samples for DNA
sequencing. She then uses DNA sequencing data to come to conclusions about
With the lab’s research, Schachtman said he hopes to find ways to prepare
the agriculture industry for stresses such as drought and low nitrogen in
soil. By understanding which microbes help plants grow, the researchers
could find microbes that would help plants in times of stress.
“If we can find some [microbes] that help a plant acquire nitrogen, maybe a
farmer could apply less nitrogen to their fields,” Schachtman said. “That
would cut costs but also reduce pollution in the water table.”
Moving forward, Schachtman said he also hopes to test more specific
hypotheses with more samples for a higher level of accuracy. He is also
considering testing phenotypes and working with drones in the field.
“We want to understand ... whether [microbes] have no beneficial or
detrimental effect on the plants,” Schachtman said. “Or whether they’re
protecting the plants against drought, for example. That’s what I’m really
interested in the end: trying to understand what these things are doing in
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