THE PROFILE 2017/18

Demographics/Agriculture/Endophytes

The AIT endophyte team of Dr. Angela Sessitsch wants to open the „black boxes“ of endophyte ecology

Foto: AIT

RELIABLE

SYSTEMS

Keeping mankind nourished in the future is a key challenge. The endophyte research at AIT has the potential to sustainably change modern agriculture.

OUR SERVICES

Identification of bacterial strains for use in agriculture and soil remediation

Development of specific applications based on new insights about useful plant-microbe interactions

Detection and activity check of inoculated strains

Analysis of microbial, plant-associated communities

PROJECTS

AIT has a DNA bank in which already more than half a million DNA samples of plant and animal origin are stored under high-tech conditions at – 20°C. Further services in the field of downstream analyses 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 biological material can be found at www.dnabank.at.

Pathogens in the environment may cause signifi- cant damage to human health. AIT efficiently and quickly detects pests, moulds and allergenic fungi from the environment. The procedures used in- clude traditional microbiological procedures and DNA analyses. In order to report an infestation as quickly 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.


OUR APPROACH

The AIT researchers are working on opening up the „black boxes“ of the endophyte ecologies below the ground and above it and to exploit the potential of these micro-organisms for a modern, sustainable agricul- ture. This is seen always from the perspective of the interaction of living beings, 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 the intestinal 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 as well as in innovative agriculture.

The endophyte team at the AIT has done pioneering work during the past 15 years. The research group of Dr. Angela Sessitsch, Dr. Birgit Mitter and Dr. Stéphane Compant was therefore awarded the Lower Austrian Science Prize in October 2016. Their work is acknowledged worldwide 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 metabolically active inside the plant and interact with their host. In order to develop a sufficiently deep understanding for the symbiosis between plants and bacterial endophytes or endophyte communities, the AIT analyzed, among other things, their genomes. It was found here that endophytes have a strong reservoir of mechanisms for detoxification. It could fur- thermore be shown that selected bacteria can prevent the spread of pathogenic micro-organisms in plants or the development of path- ogenic symptoms. It was also shown that plants that are populated with certain bacteria can germinate faster, produce more biomass and are also better able to cope with dry stress – a significant aspect in times

of increasing drought.


IMPROVING PLANTS

In order to make use of bacterial endophytes for a sustainable agricul- ture, the AIT research team has been developing new strategies for the successful transfer of bacteria on the field into the plant. Successful means: 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 bacteria are spread on the field.


These and other research results have earned the AIT endophyte team great international reputation. Last but not least, the standing was demonstrated in the successful organization of an international symposium on the use of endophytes in plant production.


UNDERSTANDING HOW THE HOLOBIONTS FUNCTION

However, not all questions have been answered by far. Further research is needed to fully understand how the holobiont plant works. In the coming years, the research results on the interactions in these holobionts should also sustainably improve and simplify plant management in practice.