When we gaze out over a meadow we see different things; an artist might see the shifting colors, a taxonomist the hundreds of species and a microbial ecologist the hosts of an underground network. Very seldom though, do we look at plants as individuals. We don’t give them names and track specific individuals throughout their lives in the same way as we do with animals, yet the potential for individuality among plants is just as large. Say we did name a plant though, and followed it throughout its life – what would the benefits be of looking at a plant as an individual?

By monitoring a specific plant individual from seed to death, knowing its heritage and all events throughout its life, it might be easier to determine which factors affect its health, productivity and fecundity. One aspect in the lives of plants that is starting to be of greater concern in both plant research and agricultural practices are the microbes in the soil with which it cooperates. For humans, the set of microbes we cooperate with in our bodies are referred to as our microbiota (sometimes also genetically referred to as our microbiome). I would like to turn focus to the microbiota of plants.

Microbes play an important role in ecosystems as primary producers, decomposers and function as symbionts to the vast majority of land plants . Research on plant-microbe interactions has to a large extent been focused on the nutrient exchange between the two symbionts and patterns of community assemblies, but there is little known about how individual these microbial communities are to plants and if they change throughout the plant’s life stages.  To find out more about this I am currently working on experiments investigating the following aspects of the plant microbiota:

1. Determining if bacterial communities in roots are plant-specific.

2. Mapping bacterial diversity across a plant body.

3. Efficiency of microbial inoculation in plants at various developmental stages.

4. Microbial community stability at various developmental stages.

5. The importance of seed-coat communities for establishment of the microbial communities in roots.

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