The AIT endophyte team of Dr. AngelaSessitsch wants to open the „blackboxes“ of endophyte ecology
Keeping mankind nourished in the future is a key challenge. The endophyteresearch at AIT has the potential to sustainably change modern agriculture.
Identification of bacterial strains for use inagriculture and soil remediation
Development of specific applications based onnew insights about useful plant-microbeinteractions
Detection and activity check of inoculated strains
Analysis of microbial, plant-associatedcommunities
AIT has a DNA bank in which already more thanhalf a million DNA samples of plant and animalorigin are stored under high-tech conditions at –20°C. Further services in the field of downstreamanalyses and genotyping combined with compe-tent bioinformatics complete the service offer.Further detailed information about the offered ser-vices as well as access to the stored biologicalmaterial can be found at www.dnabank.at.
Pathogens in the environment may cause signifi-cant damage to human health. AIT efficiently andquickly detects pests, moulds and allergenic fungifrom the environment. The procedures used in-clude traditional microbiological procedures andDNA analyses. In order to report an infestation asquickly as possible or at least within a few hours,rapid tests are being developed and used at AIT.Our clients include private households, golf clubs,plant nurseries and interior analysis experts.
The AIT researchers are working on opening up the „black boxes“ of theendophyte ecologies below the ground and above it and to exploit thepotential of these micro-organisms for a modern, sustainable agricul-ture. This is seen always from the perspective of the interaction of livingbeings, so-called „holobiontes“ („hólos“ meaning in ancient Greek“whole”, “bioo¯n” “living”), which in turn gives rise to new creatures.
ACHIEVING HEALTHY GROWTH
Endophytes perform functions in plants that are similar to those of theintestinal microflora of humans and animals. They contribute signifi-cantly to the growth and health of their host. This is why the microbio-mes associated with plants are a highly sought-after topic in science aswell as in innovative agriculture.
The endophyte team at the AIT has done pioneering work during thepast 15 years. The research group of Dr. Angela Sessitsch, Dr. BirgitMitter and Dr. Stéphane Compant was therefore awarded the LowerAustrian Science Prize in October 2016. Their work is acknowledgedworldwide and contributes significantly to understanding the diversity,function and applications of these micro-organisms.
METABOLICALLY ACTIVE ENDOPHYTES
The team was able to show, e.g. that endophytes are metabolicallyactive inside the plant and interact with their host. In order to develop asufficiently deep understanding for the symbiosis between plants andbacterial endophytes or endophyte communities, the AIT analyzed,among other things, their genomes. It was found here that endophyteshave a strong reservoir of mechanisms for detoxification. It could fur-thermore be shown that selected bacteria can prevent the spread ofpathogenic micro-organisms in plants or the development of path-ogenic symptoms. It was also shown that plants that are populated withcertain bacteria can germinate faster, produce more biomass and arealso better able to cope with dry stress – a significant aspect in times
of increasing drought.
In order to make use of bacterial endophytes for a sustainable agricul-ture, the AIT research team has been developing new strategies for thesuccessful transfer of bacteria on the field into the plant. Successfulmeans: a sufficient quantity of bacteria survives and remains active.
In this regard, the AIT has filed several patents. One of them is a tech-nique that brings selected bacteria via the flower into the plant seeds.The seed serves as a protective envelope and a „taxi“ when the bacteriaare spread on the field.
These and other research results have earned the AIT endophyte teamgreat international reputation. Last but not least, the standing wasdemonstrated in the successful organization of an internationalsymposium on the use of endophytes in plant production.
UNDERSTANDING HOW THE HOLOBIONTS FUNCTION
However, not all questions have been answered by far. Further research isneeded to fully understand how the holobiont plant works. In the comingyears, the research results on the interactions in these holobionts shouldalso sustainably improve and simplify plant management in practice.