Soil beneficial microorganisms, and specially the widespread arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi have a great potential as biofertilizers and bioprotection agents in a modern and sustainable agriculture. These microorganisms establish mutualistic symbiosis with most land plants, including most agricultural crops as tomato, providing enormous benefits to plant nutrition and health. The use of AM fungi will definitively help to reduce the use and abuse of harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture, while increasing crop resilience against diverse stresses. However, despite their wide potential, the use of mycorrhizal inoculants in agriculture is still challenging because of the variability of the results when applied to the fields. This variability relies in the quality and effectivity of the inoculants, the environmental conditions and crop management, mainly phosphate and nitrogen fertilization, which strongly impact symbiosis establishment. AM symbiosis establishment requires a high degree of communication and coordination between the plant and fungal partners, which is based on the production and exudation into the rhizosphere of molecular signals. Thus, a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in this beneficial association is crucial for the development and design of new microbial-based inoculants.
The student will be involved in the optimization of AM symbiosis establishment through the improvement of the plant-AM fungus signalling (strigolactones, flavonoids, Myc factors and new uncharacterized metabolites). AM symbiosis will be studied under different nutritional regimes, root exudates under these different growth conditions will be collected and analyzed by HPLC-MS/MS., and roots will be analyzed using molecular markers. This research has a marked multidisciplinary character, involving areas related to plant physiology, microbiology, molecular biology, chemistry and environmental sciences.
The outcomes of this research will open up new possibilities for biotechnological applications in a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly agriculture to meet the increasing food demand.