Selecting fungi

Plant & zo

The science of plants and more

Selecting fungi

We all carry our own micro-organisms with us, plants also. The communities that these micro-organisms form contribute to keeping the plant healthy. For example, micro-organisms can collaborate with a plant, exchanging nutrients for sugars, helping the plant grow. Or micro-organisms can produce substances that make the plant less attractive for herbivores. And they might be able to keep harmful micro-organisms under control. Important these micro-organisms. But how do you get them?

American researchers found this out for the fungi on leaves of switchgrass, a large grass species. The researchers grew different switchgrass variants at different locations and identified the fungi growing on the leaves. They found that the fungi growing in and on young plants depends as well on the variant as on the place where it is growing. But with the aging of the plant the types of fungi depended more and more on the switchgrass variant.

It gives them a chance to create the ideal micro-organism community

The researchers dived into switchgrass genetics to find out how switchgrass decides which fungi to keep. One region in the switchgrass DNA caught their attention. Variation in this region appeared to be correlated to the fungi the researchers found on the plant. Zooming in, they noted that the genes in this region are those for recognising pathogens. Furthermore, these genes were turned on in variants that were more vulnerable for pathogens. While in plants that don’t get ill, these genes were turned off. Although it is not clear how, it appears that this region not only had an influence on the fungi that could be found on the leaves but also on how vulnerable the plant was for those fungi.

While plants are dependent on where they grow for the micro-organisms they start out with. They are not for those they end their lives with, that they decide. It gives them a chance to create the ideal micro-organism community. Although it might not work every time. Plants stay dependent on what is available.


Acer VanWallendael, Gian Maria Niccolo Benucci, Pedro Beschoren da Costa, Linnea Fraser, Avinash Sreedasyam, Felix Fritschi, Thomas E. Juenger, John T. Lovell, Gregory Bonito, David B. Lowry (2022) Host genotype controls ecological change in the leaf fungal microbiome. PLOS Biology 20(8): e3001681.

Published by Femke de Jong

A plant scientist who wants to let people know more about the wonders of plant science. Follow me at @plantandzo

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