Antonino Malacrino, Postdoctoral Researcher, The Ohio State University (United States)
Alison Bennett, faculty mentor
Microbes are major drivers of the ecology and evolution of many organisms, often forming an extension of their host's genome. If we consider a plant-herbivore system, the interactions between plant and soil microbiome can influence the fitness of herbivores, or herbivore-associated microbes can help their host to overcome host defenses or nutrient-limited diets. Thus, we hypothesize that the manipulation of one component of a plant-microbe-insect system will reflect on the other components.
We manipulate a soil-plant-herbivore system to understand (1) whether soil microbiome can influence the microbial communities of other compartments (rhizosphere, root, leaf, herbivore) and (2) whether herbivores are able to affect the microbiota in other compartments (leaf, root, rhizosphere). At each compartment, we characterize bacterial and fungal communities using metagenomics, and we will correlate shifts in population structure with plant physiological and functional traits.
Understanding the mechanisms that drive plant-microbe-insect interactions, we can manipulate the microbiome of a selected compartment (e.g., soil) to target a specific component of the system (e.g., herbivore). This can translate into endless ecological application but, most importantly, into pest management strategies with a low impact on the environment.