Microbial control of root developmental plasticity

Medicago nodule with gfp rhizobia


The aim of this project is to identify mechanisms that link microbial signals with changes in root development.

Plants have evolved in the presence of a huge diversity of microorganisms, many interacting with roots in the soil. Some of these interactions are detrimental to the plant, for example the parasitism of most plants by nematode worms that can cause large crop losses. Other interactions are beneficial, for instance the symbiosis of some plant species with nitrogen fixing bacteria which provide nitrogen fertiliser to those plants.

Our research is interested in root-microbe interactions in which bacteria or nematodes manipulate the root architecture and development. Nematodes alter root growth and cause the development of galls or cycts. Nitrogen fixing rhizobia trigger the development of nodules. Microbes have evolved specific signals that interfere with the developmental program of plants. We investigate how these microbial signals redirect the development of the root system. Our current working hypothesis is that auxin transport and response pathways are key developmental master switches that mediate developmental changes in response to environmental changes. Our long term aim is to contribute to developing nitrogen-fixing symbioses for non-legume crops and to reduce crop losses due to parasitic nematodes.

Recent key publications

  • Jin J, Watt M and Mathesius U (2012) The autoregulation gene SUNN mediates changes in root organ formation in response to nitrogen through alteration of shoot-to-root auxin transport. Plant Physiology 159: 489-500.
  • Plet J., Wasson A., Ariel F., Le Signor C., Baker D., Mathesius U., Crespi M., and Frugier F. (2011) MtCRE1-dependent cytokinin signaling integrates bacterial and plant cues to coordinate symbiotic nodule organogenesis in Medicago truncatula. Plant Journal 65, 622–633
  • Nicotra AB, Atkin,OK, Bonser SP, Davidson,A, Finnegan EJ, Mathesius U, Poot P, Purugganan MD, Richards CL, Valladares F, van Kleunen M (2010) Plant phenotypic plasticity in a changing climate. Trends in Plant Science 15: 684-692
  • Mathesius U (2010) The Role of Auxin in Root-Symbiont and Root-Pathogen Interactions: From Development to Defense: In: U. Luttge et al. (eds.), Progress in Botany 71: 185-210
  • Grunewald W., van Noorden G.E., van Isterdael G., Beeckman T., Gheysen G. and Mathesius U (2009). Manipulation of auxin transport in plant roots during Rhizobium symbiosis and nematode parasitism. Plant Cell 21: 2553-2562
  • Mathesius U (2008). Auxin – at the root of nodule development? Functional Plant Biology, 35: 651-668.

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