Understanding plant health and disease from studying plant-microbe interactions at micrometer scales
The field of microbial ecology is experiencing a revolution in the types of tools that have become available to study how microorganisms interact with one another and with their biotic and abiotic environment at scales that are most relevant to them. Part of this revolution is the development and use of artificial theaters of microbial activity, such as Dr. Northen’s EcoFABs. These are designed to mimic the natural environment at microscopic resolution and to allow precise manipulation of the environment and its microbiota to test hypotheses relevant to the question whether macroscale outcomes (such as plant health and disease) can be predicted from microscale interactions. In this collaboration with the Leveau Lab at the University of California Davis, EcoFABS are exploited to study plant-beneficial bacteria from the genus Collimonas and their ability to maintain root health and stimulate root growth in the face of biotic and abiotic stresses.