Microbial Interactions in Plant Ecosystems
Who we are:
We are an interdisciplinary group that bridges between microbiology, plant sciences and ecology. Therefore, we are part of the Center for Plant Molecular Biology (ZMBP) as well as the Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine Tübingen (IMIT). Our main focus is to understand fundamental mechanisms that shape microbial communities from a stochastic input to a well-defined often host associated microbial community. Our main expertise’s are in microbiology, molecular biology and bioinformatics.
The plant phyllosphere (Fig. 1A) faces a broad range of harsh abiotic fluctuations such as strong radiation by sunlight, severe dryness alternating with raindrops hitting the leaves, wind and temperature fluctuations. Nevertheless, numerous microbes colonize this challenging habitat (Fig. 1B and C) either to benefit the plant in case of symbionts, to harm the plant in case of pathogens or just as neutral residents, randomly spread by wind, water, insects or any other vector.
Numerous studies on plant-, animal- or insect-associated microorganisms have revealed a critical affect on host physiology and performance suggesting that evolution and ecology of plants, animals and insects, or any other organism, can only be understood in the context of its natural interactions with associate organisms, in particular microbes (Kemen et al. 2015). Host-associated microbial community structures are strongly affected by abiotic factors causing stochasticity, host factors, however, have drawn more and more attentions due to their stability over a range of conditions and their potential to influence the microbiome in a way that might reduce or prevent pathogen attack and manifestation (Kemen 2014, Kroll 2017).
Since researchers have become aware of the importance of analysing organisms as holobionts rather than isolated individuals, more and more research has been done in this field (see links to related research projects). Despite all these efforts, there are many key questions unanswered that we address with our research:
- Which factors structure the microbiome and how are microbial communities established and stabilized?
- How do microbes in complex communities interact with each other and with their host? How are host signals transmitted to the microbial community?
- How do microbial communities evolve? Do they co-evolve? Which consequences does communal evolution have on gene flow?
A) Dynamics and heritability of the leaf microbiota (Juliana Almario)
B) Microbe-microbe and host-microbe communication in host tissues (Ariane Kemen)
C) The genetic effect of host genes on hub microbes (Ariane Kemen)
D) Local effects of host genetics on microbiome assembly (Paul Runge)
References and further reading:
Kroll S, Agler MT, Kemen E (2017) Genomic dissection of host–microbe and microbe–microbe interactions for advanced plant breeding, Current Opinion in Plant Biology 36, 71-78, DOI: 10.1016/j.pbi.2017.01.004.