The UK Crop Microbiome CryoBank

Lead Research Organisation: John Innes Centre
Department Name: Molecular Microbiology


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.

Technical Summary

Sequencing technology has revolutionised the description of microbial communities and their interactions with other organisms. Many studies into the genetic diversity of microbiomes for a range of crops have been published, but these are fragmented and uncoordinated. It is impossible to understand the relative importance of genotypic and edaphic factors in driving crop microbiome function. Since samples are not stored adequately or publicly available, researchers cannot revisit them to add metadata as new technologies emerge or research priorities change. Existing culture collections store axenic cultures of single species. Whilst important, these provide limited scope in a 'microbiomic' age. To advance this, resources need to be developed and validated for preserving and reviving whole crop microbiomes, along with libraries of culturable strains with varying properties. We seek to create a cryopreserved 'CryoBank' of characterised plant-associated microbiomes (rhizoplane material, bacterial and fungal isolates, DNA) alongside an integrated bioinformatic database. After characterisation of the culturable microbiota associated with UK crops, synthetic microbial communities will be constructed and tested for positive plant growth traits. This will provide unique added value resources for further evaluation by industry and academia. This integrated resource will support Crop Microbiome research. Robust methodologies for collection and storage of intact microbial communities in environmental samples and extraction of total DNA will be applied. Cryopreservation will be optimised to sustainably maintain the resource in a genotypically, phenotypically and functionally stable state. Genomic tools capable of characterising samples will be used to assess microbial diversity (including symbionts, endophytes, pathogens) within the samples. Metadata will be accessed into the AgMicrobiome Base a bioinformatics information and data resource with links to EBI and sample metadata.

Planned Impact

PLANT PATHOLOGISTS, SOIL MICROBIOLOGISTS, AND OTHER RESEARCHERS STUDYING CROP HEALTH AND DISEASE: The UK Crop Microbiome CryoBank (UK-CMCB) will combine cryo-stored rhizoplane samples with microbial cultures integrated with accessible meta information, bioinformatic databases and tools to facilitate research into the crop microbiome. It will fill a gap in UK resource infrastructure and represents a unique, world-first biological resource that will underpin UK-led research in several key BBSRC strategic priority areas, most significantly the sustainable enhancement of agricultural production. Research based on the CMCB will have substantial implications for plant health, food security and the management of invasive species. The resource will further support efforts towards several UN sustainable goals (including Zero Hunger; Production and Life on Land; Responsible Consumption), as well as offering significant potential for future GCRF activity. The resource will strengthen existing ties and stimulate new collaborations between UK agricultural research organisations including the Centre for Crop Health and Protection, Rothamsted and FERA Ltd., The John Innes Centre/UEA, CABI, The James Hutton Institute alongside UK Universities and international organisations. Staff on the project will be trained in transferable skills including environmental and molecular microbiology, bioinformatics, and the analysis of complex datasets that are in high-demand among employers in academia and industry.
THE AGRITECH INDUSTRY AND RELATED BIOSCIENCE COMPANIES: Both the UK-CMCB resource itself, and the research it generates, will be of direct benefit to the bioeconomy supporting Agritech companies, from small start-ups to multinationals. Research areas that could directly benefit from the resource include the development of alternative pest-control/plant growth-promotion strategies, more efficient use of conventional pesticides/fertilisers, combatting of the spread of invasive species, and exploitation of soil microbiomes as a source of new bio-inoculants. The potential utility of the resource to these stakeholders is evidenced by the multiple letters of support we have received for this proposal and we will liaise with KTN and CHAP to ensure translation.
FARMERS AND THE AGRICULTURAL SECTOR: Research generated as a result of the UK-CMCB will produce substantial medium and long-term benefits for farmers in the form of novel crop treatments (both chemical and biological), new crop varieties with improved characteristics relating to soil health, advice and guidance on soil and crop management, and improved national responses to the threat of invasive species.
THE GENERAL PUBLIC: In addition to the indirect economic and agricultural benefits described above, development of the UK-CMCB will increase public understanding of the plant microbiome, and how plant/soil-associated microbiomes affect everyday life. For example, how microbes impact both agricultural ecosystems and natural environments, and their potential uses in biotechnology. As this is a publicly-funded resource, it is important that the public are both informed about the science we are doing, and are actively involved in discussions with scientists about how the resource should develop going forward. This will aid both in the dissemination and understanding of the work we do, and crucially will help to build public trust in the research. All applicants are actively involved in public outreach, and provide expert knowledge related to environmental and agricultural microbiology to the media, government and international bodies such as the OECD. As part of this project we will carry out a number of different outreach activities, and will actively communicate our science to the public.


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