by Pranav Pande
The fact that the climate is changing rapidly in recent years is very well known. Not only is it affecting humans, but it also impacts plants to a great extent. This in turn leads to a decrease in plant quality and their yield is going down at a scale that if not controlled soon, will cause difficulty when trying to cope with the increase in demand for food in the coming years.
Picture taken at the conference “Rhizosphere 5” in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
In order to improve plant productivity, conventional approaches such as plant breeding are generally used. However, successfully breeding two plant species is time-consuming and several generations of large number hybrid varieties are needed to create a successful plant progeny with the desired traits. One promising novel approach is to modify the microbial communities associated with various parts of the plant. Microbes are present on, in and around the plants and the relation between the plant and the microbes can be beneficial, neutral or pathogenic. Collectively, these microbes are known as the microbiome and the plant together with microbial communities can be termed as the holobiont. However, during stressful conditions, the plant holobiont can be disturbed creating a state of dysbiosis which is usually harmful for the plant. Different stressors have different impacts on plant holobionts which is why it is important to study the effects of each of these stressors on plants separately. My project focuses on the effect of drought stress on the wheat holobiont. Briefly, I am interested in how wheat and its associated microbial communities respond when the soil water content in the field is manipulated.
My research specifically focuses on the rhizosphere, the narrow area along the plant roots. The rhizosphere is a dynamic region which harbours a specialized microbial population directly influenced by the plant root secretions and other factors. Rhizospheric microorganisms also help the plant in various ways such as protecting it from harmful pathogens, and in return the microbes receive carbon from the plant’s roots and can use it as a source of energy. Due to these critical functions that microbes in the rhizosphere perform, the knowledge of how these microbial communities are changing with different factors and how this change in turn leads to changes in microbial and plant functions is necessary to design microbial based strategies for sustainable agriculture.
My interest in the field of plant-microbe interactions in the rhizosphere took me to a conference, “Rhizosphere 5”, which took place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the province known as Canada’s breadbasket. The conference focused on the recent developments in the field of rhizosphere research with interesting aspects related to root imaging, root microbiome engineering, modelling of rhizosphere processes, microbial hotspots in the rhizosphere, and their ecology etc. I was specifically interested in the effect of stress conditions on microbial responses which was covered thoroughly in different sessions during the entire conference duration. Talks focusing on changes in microbial diversity and associated functions gave me critical ideas for my research project. The conference also provided me with an opportunity to interact with peers in the field, share ideas and discuss my project with other students through a poster presentation.
I would like to extend my warmest and most sincere thanks to my supervisor Prof. Etienne Yergeau and my co-supervisor Prof. Marc St-Arnaud for recommending me to attend this conference, and to Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science (QCBS) for granting me the Excellence Award which helped me cover some expenses incurred for attending the conference.
Pranav Pande is doing his PhD with Prof. Etienne Yergeau at Institut national de la recherche scientifique – Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie, Laval, Canada and is co-supervised by Prof. Marc St-Arnaud at Institut de recherche en biologie végétale de l’Université de Montréal, Montreal, Canada. He is interested in the ecology and the response of wheat and its associated rhizospheric microbial communities in drought stress.