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June 06
Interactions 2018 - Issue 2


2018's second issue of IS-MPMI Interactions features an InterView with Angela Sessitsch, Austrian Instituteof Technology, by Bruna Gonçalves Coutinho, University of Washington. Also featured: learn about initiatives to combat late blight disease in potatoes and how a journal by kids for kids is inspiring young scientists!

Featured InterView: Angela Sessitsch

Bruna Gonçalves Coutinho, University of Washington, interviews Angela Sessitsch, Austrian Institute of Technology, about her choice to study plant-bacteria interactions, her thoughts on the explosion of research on bioinoculants, and the future of metagenomics

Improving Potato Crops Through Stacked R-Gene Technology

Threatening the world’s tuber crops is potato’s number-one enemy: late blight disease. Late blight, caused by the water mold Phytophthora infestans, destroys leaves, stems, and tubers. The disease spreads very quickly and can result in total crop loss. Read about how the Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership is finding effective alternatives for fighting late blight through biotechnology.

Connect with the Next Generation of Scientists: Get Involved with Frontiers for Young Minds!

Authors of journal articles generally aim to educate an audience made up of people already in their field. But what can researchers do to inspire new scientists—particularly kids? That’s where Frontiers for Young Minds comes in. Frontiers for Young Minds publishes journals with articles written by experts and then edited by kids, for kids.

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IS-MPMI Interactions

 

Editor-in-Chief: Dennis Halterman
Staff Editor: Michelle Bjerkness

The deadline for submitting items to the next issue of Interactions is February 23, 2018.
IS-MPMI Interactions is a quarterly publication by the International Society of Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions
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Share views on "hot topics," anecdotal stories about research findings published in the MPMI journal, or science-related events within the community. E-mail Dennis Halterman or submit items online.
 
June 06
Featured InterView: Angela Sessitsch

​This InterView with Angela Sessitsch, head of the Competence Unit at the Austrian Institute of Technology, was conducted by Bruna Gonçalves Coutinho, a post-doc at the University of Washington. If you are interested in completing your own InterView, please contact Interactions Editor-in-Chief Dennis Halterman.




Bruna Gonçalves Coutinho (BGC): You have been studying plant–bacteria interactions for a long time now. Why did you choose this as your research topic? Of your many contributions to the field, which is the one you are most proud of?

Angela Sessitsch (AS): I did my PhD on Rhizobium–legume interactions and was fascinated with how microorganisms can contribute tremendously to plant nutrition. At that time, I also got to know Johanna Döbereiner from Brazil, and she indeed had a vision on microbial contributions to agriculture. For example, she found that nitrogen fixation by endophytes in sugarcane was a great economic contribution to bioethanol production in Brazil. Thereby, endophytes contributed to a great bioethanol program in that country. At that time, I got more and more interested in plant–microbe interactions beyond Rhizobium.

I am not sure what has been the greatest contribution of my career, but already about 15 years ago, we showed that endophytes are active inside the plant and that microbial (endophytic) communities respond to plant physiology and plant stress. This was at a time when even plant microbiologists did not believe in the existence or importance of bacterial endophytes. We also did the first metagenomic analysis of root endophytes, which was not only an advance to our understanding of endophyte functioning but also a tremendous technical challenge, as it was before the use of next-generation sequencing and we had to remove plant-derived DNA as efficiently as possible. More recently, my team discovered a way to integrate bacterial inoculant strains into seeds, which has opened a completely novel way to modulate microbiomes and has great value for commercial applications.

BGC: We have been seeing an explosion of research on bioinoculants. Several companies and academic labs are working on the discovery and formulation of microorganisms that can replace or act together with chemical fertilizers to boost crop production. However, this is not a new field of research. What do you think has changed in the field that has allowed for this renewed interest in the subject?

AS: Well, it is not new, but it was a niche market, except for Rhizobium inoculants. A few years ago, plant scientists became aware that plants—like humans and other animals—host a diverse microbiota, which is crucial for health, nutrition, and stress resilience. This made a huge difference, as before, plant scientists and plant breeders completely ignored the existence of plant microbiota. This increasing awareness of the existence and the potential of microorganisms, as well as the fact that many chemicals are being taken away from the market, has led to big expectations from the plant microbiome. Further drivers are climate change and massive yield losses due to drought, which may be alleviated by microorganisms but not by chemicals, as well as demographic development, which requires yield increases.

BGC: Your lab and several others have used metagenomics to contribute to a broadened culture-independent view of plant microbiome and their activities. How can the scientific community leverage the power of metagenomics to develop targeted microbial-based products?

AS: This is an interesting and challenging question. I believe that metagenomics allows us to obtain structural information on the communities associated with the plant and that learning the ecology of microbiomes may lead to a better understanding of which strains can better establish in a certain habitat or in association with a specific plant. Metagenomics may lead us in isolation campaigns in order to obtain better inoculant strains or reveal markers indicating beneficial interactions.

BGC: What are the biggest challenges we face in order to move this technology forward?

AS: There are a couple of challenges. For instance, we all agree that field success has to improve. There are a couple of issues to consider in that aspect, such as the development of suitable formulations or application approaches. But the ecology and competitive ability of strains have to be considered, as well. Generally, we have to move from trial and error to discovery- and application-based understanding.

BGC: Microbial-based products are yet to be widely adopted in agriculture, but preliminary research suggests a clear potential for application globally. One challenge facing the industry is avoiding negative public perceptions, such as those previously experienced by biotech crop industries. How do you think scientists can help in this aspect?

AS: Communication is an important aspect. The question is, who is responsible for it and who is best suited to do it? Companies, in their own interest, should be active in communication with the public sector to avoid negative public perception. It will also be important to involve the academic sector and to provide resources to allow scientists to be involved in stakeholder engagement. Ideally, specialized staff should be hired for communication tasks, and they should involve scientists, as well as other stakeholders, in a dialogue.

June 06
Improving Potato Crops Through Stacked R-Gene Technology

Most of us spend the majority of our time in the lab or office, but I know that some members are passionate about moving our newly found technologies into the field to improve crop production and provide food security throughout the world. To this end, I would like to highlight projects associated with IS-MPMI members that demonstrate translations of basic biology into applied products. IS-MPMI member Nicolas Champouret and I are currently serving on the technical advisory board for a USAID project to introduce late blight-resistant potato to Indonesia and Bangladesh using GM technology. Following is a summary of the work that’s being done on this project. I think it’s a great representation of how our science can impact society. If you have projects related to the translation of basic biology to the field and would like to highlight them in Interactions, please let me know.

—Dennis Halterman, Editor-in-Chief, IS-MPMI Interactions
 
 
 
FTF Indonesia Team 2016.jpg
Feed the Future Indonesia Team, 2016
 
 
 
 

Improving Potato Crops Through Stacked R-Gene Technology

Maybe you like them mashed or baked or perhaps as chips. Whatever your preference, odds are that you are a consumer of potatoes. In fact, more than 1 billion people worldwide eat potatoes. The potato is a fundamental element in food security for millions of people across the globe. Since the early 1960s, the growth in potato production has rapidly overtaken production of all other food crops in developing countries, and potato is now the third most important food crop in the world behind wheat and rice. The potato produces more nutritious food, more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop. It contains no fat, sodium, or cholesterol. One potato provides nearly half an individual’s daily need of vitamin C and more potassium than a banana. 

Threatening the world’s tuber crops is potato’s number-one enemy: late blight disease. Late blight, caused by the water mold Phytophthora infestans, destroys leaves, stems, and tubers. The disease spreads very quickly and can result in total crop loss. The fight against late blight is as old as the potato. Late blight was responsible for the great Irish potato famine of the mid-1800s. In today’s landscape, farmers spray heavy concentrations of fungicides to protect crops against the disease, which increases input and labor costs and poses greater potential risks for the population and environment.

The Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership is finding effective alternatives for fighting late blight through biotechnology. A 5-year, $5.9-million, multi-institution cooperative agreement involves USAID, Michigan State University (MSU), the University of Minnesota, the University of Idaho, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, the Indonesian Center for Agricultural Biotechnology Genetic Resources Research and Development, and the J. R. Simplot Company. The mission of this collaboration is to introduce bioengineered potato products in farmer- and consumer-preferred varieties to small-holder farmers in Indonesia and Bangladesh. These biotech potato products will offer broad-spectrum resistance to late blight by using a combination of late blight resistance genes (R genes) found in species of wild potato.

During the first 2 years of the partnership, a proof of concept was completed at MSU through a collaborative research effort with Dr. Marc Ghislain (CIP) in Kenya and his USAID-funded CIP Project. Using the technology developed by Ghislain’s group, MSU developed transgenic potato events containing a stack of three R genes. A confined field trial was conducted at MSU in 2017 with genetically engineered potato events containing three R genes, a single R-gene transgenic event, and nontransgenic control potato plants. The trial was inoculated with Phytophthora infestans using a United States isolate called “US23.” The results showed the superiority of resistance with the stack ed three R-gene transgenic events over the single-gene event and nontransgenic potatoes (Fig. 1).

At the same time, another partner in the project, J. R. Simplot, began testing and evaluating its R-gene technology to select the best combination of R genes. The Simplot stacked three R-gene technology is currently being transferred into the targeted varieties for Bangladesh and Indonesia. The team is purifying the P. infestans isolates found in the project’s target countries and will soon use them for testing. Field trials at MSU and in-country greenhouse testing are expected to begin within 1 year.

In addition, the Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership provides strategic human and institutional capacity-building support (research, development, and outreach) to in-country partners to improve research capacity and the sustainable use of biotech potato products. Another focus of the project is implementation of a communications strategy aimed at informing the public and stakeholders of the benefits associated with the late blight-resistant potato.
 
 
Phil Wharton in Bangladesh Field 2018.jpg
Feed the Future Bangladesh Team Launch, 2017​​​ Phil Wharton in Bangladesh Field, 2018
 
 
The environmental impact, gender-balance contribution, and socioeconomic impact of GM products produced through this project will be carefully monitored and assessed. Overall, the project will contribute to these five goals: (1) to reduce malnutrition and improve health; (2) to reduce the use of harmful pesticides; (3) to reduce pre- and postharvest losses; (4) to improve the social and economic standing of women; and (5) to catalyze economic growth.

Feed the Future, the U.S. initiative to combat global hunger and poverty, is founded on the belief that global hunger is solvable. By partnering for innovation and creating greater global food security through innovative research in agriculture, Feed the Future is fighting hunger with science and technology. To learn more, visit www.canr.msu.edu/biotechpp or www.feedthefuture.gov.

 

Figure: Late Blight US23 Confined Field Trial: Michigan State University 2017

 

Nontransgenic-potato.jpg

single-r-late.jpg

three-r-late.jpg

A. Nontransgenic potato

​B. Single R-gene

late blight-resistant potato

C. Three R-gene

late blight-resistant potato

 
Fig. 1. Results of the confined field trial concluded that the three R-gene late blight-resistant potato (C) showed strong resistance to strain US23, whereas the single R-gene events (B) suffered heavy damage and the nontransgenic plants (A) completely succumbed to the disease.

 

June 06
Connect with the Next Generation of Scientists: Get Involved with Frontiers for Young Minds!

​Authors of journal articles generally aim to educate an audience made up of people already in their field. But what can researchers do to inspire new scientists—particularly kids? That’s where Frontiers for Young Minds comes in. Frontiers for Young Minds publishes journals with articles written by experts and then edited by kids, for kids.

Under the guidance of science mentors, young people between the ages of 8 and 15 review articles and advise the authors on how to make the materials more accessible to members of young age groups. Frontiers for Young Minds not only involves young people directly in the scientific process, but it also produces resources that can be used for instruction, enrichment, and informal learning.

Authors can submit one of two types of articles. Core Concept articles explain fundamental ideas from a given field and synthesize them for younger audiences. New Discovery articles take existing journal articles and translate them into language that younger audiences can comprehend.

Expose young people to the work you do in molecular plant-microbe interactions by getting involved with Frontiers for Young Minds! Visit Frontiers for Young Minds online, and check out the author guidelines. If you have any questions, contact Frontiers for Young Minds or Dennis Halterman.