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Shoots or roots - which controls plant-fungal interactions?

plant roots

Investigate the origin of signals affecting colonisation of plant roots by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) colonise the roots of >80% of plants, and proliferate external hyphae into the rhizosphere and beyond, maximising the volume of soil explored by the fungal hyphae for inorganic nutrients. This relationship between plants and fungus can significantly improve the growth and nutrition of the host plant; the benefits to plant nutrition from AMF are highest in soils depleted of these nutrients.

We know that plants can selectively control the entry of friendly fungi such as the AMF while excluding other pathogenic fungi. However, the plant tissue responsible for controlling these colonization signals is not known. Here, we will use plant grafting as a technique to test if the control for these colonization signals comes from the roots, or are driven by long-distance signals derived from the shoots.

By grafting wild-type and mutant non-mycorrhizal plant genotypes together, we can look at the effects of modified shoot-root signalling on phenotypes such as plant growth and nutrition, expression of genes, and amount of fungus found in the roots. Ultimately, the aim of this project is to dissect the origin of signals that affect AMF colonisation, and be able to answer the question: Is it the shoots? Or the roots?

You will develop skills in:

  • Propagation of seedlings under aseptic conditions
  • Root/shoot grafting of plants
  • Preparation of inoculation and soil treatments
  • Harvesting of plants
  • Growth, nutrition and mycorrhizal colonisation phenotyping
  • RNA extraction and DNase treatment
  • cDNA synthesis
  • PCR and gel electrophoresis
  • Primer designing and optimisation
  • Data analysis

Dr Stephanie Watts-Williams, Ramsay Fellow


Dr Stephanie Watts-Williams

Research area: Soil Science

Recommended honours enrolment: Honours in Soil Science

Tagged in Honours projects - Soil science, Honours projects - Agricultural science, Honours projects - Stephanie Watts-Williams, Honours projects - Plant science

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