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Harnessing and integrating disease suppressive microbes and synthetic soils for sustainable low input horticulture


Consumers in the UK and beyond are increasingly concerned about the impacts of pesticides on the environment and human health. Despite these concerns, pesticide use has grown across the globe due to increased disease pressures and evolution of pesticide resistance. An industry-wide reduction in pesticide use will require a novel suite of effective crop protection strategies. These new strategies must not only provide satisfactory yields to ensure economic feasibility for growers and the agro-industry, but must also be acceptable to consumers and producers. One potential solution in horticultural production systems lies with development of soil-free growing as the majority of pests and diseases in covered horticulture are soil-borne. Conseqently, growers have sought alternative, soil-less, technologies such as hydroponics. Critically, beneficial microbes that help protect plants against pathogenic microbes by enhancing their immune function are absent from hydroponic systems making them susceptible to disease. The principal objective is to obtain a deep understanding of the microbial functions through which plant-beneficial microbes in the root microbiome promote growth and suppress disease, and to exploit this knowledge in innovative cropping systems to enhance production. We will focus on the tomato and Rhizobium radiobacter biovar 1 root mat disease pathosystem as a tractable and commercially applicable model. We will develop an integrated strategy that translates the latest evidence from basic research into effective crop protection methods across three interlinked work packages; WP 1 - Isolating and understanding the mechanistic basis of disease suppressive microbes; WP2 - development of synthetic (foam-based) soil with application of disease suppressive microbes in vitro and WP3 - optimisation of synthetic soil formulations for beneficial crop x microbial community interactions and large-scale trials.

Professor Duncan Cameron
University of Sheffield
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