Plant-Microbe Interactions

Using our technology, plants can resist viruses and other problematic diseases.

The Plant-Microbe Interactions Group specialises in the discovery of interesting new genes from plants and microorganisms. This team develops disease-resistant plants and identifies novel compounds from microbial communities associated with the rhizosphere of plants.

Our research uses a functional genomics approach to study beneficial and parasitic interactions between plants and microbes. We work to improve crop plants for resistance against fungi, bacteria, viruses and nematodes.

Our expertise has been incorporated into a start-up company Nexgen Plants, which focuses on virus resistance in crops. Our aim is to prevent virus related crop damage from wiping out billions of dollars in the local economies of agricultural communities around the world.

We also have extensive experience with:

  • Pathogen quantification
  • Disease resistance assays
  • Molecular biology project design
  • Regulation of defence-signalling genes

For a brief introduction to Nexgen, please click here.

Why should we protect plants from disease?

Food Security is dependent on sustainable agricultural yields. These yields are under threat from abiotic stress and diseases which are predicted to worsen with climate change. Our research provides a picture of how disease resistance and soil microbial communities are causally linked, and is continuously developing new strategies for disease control.

How do you protect plants from disease?

We use transcription factors and antimicrobial proteins to make plants resistant against pathogens. In particular we are using a lectin gene family that has shown activity against bacteria and nematodes.

We are also working on ERF transcription factors that induce the jasmonic acid pathway that is active against necrotrophic fungi, such as Fusarium. We have also developed a new strategy against viruses using microRNAs.

Do we focus on the plant, or the soil, or both?

The simple answer is both.

We know that the plant root -soil microbe interaction is critical to plant health and economic yield, but has been very difficult to study under the ground.

Recent breakthroughs in next generation sequencing and metabolomics together with our recent development of the world’s first cDNA microarray for soil microbial communities provide a great opportunity to understand this interaction at both the genetic and biochemical level.

How do you study plant-microbe interactions for plant growth promotion?

Our lab uses a metatranscriptomics approach (mRNA isolation, cDNA synthesis, next generation sequencing) to identify genes that are activated in the microbial community during plant-microbe interactions.

Additionally, we use whole genome microarrays from Arabidopsis to identify plant genes that are activated during these interactions. Bioinformatics is then used to construct pathways of biochemical interactions.

We simultaneously analyse root gene expression, plant-microbe chemical interactions, and microbial community gene expression. Important new genes and compounds are being identified and evaluated for their ability to improve soil health and increase resistance to soil pathogens and disease. This leads to new strategies to improve crop yield and resilience.


Our growth promotion trials have repeatedly shown that consistent success with microbial biofertilisers relies not only on the microbial strains, their formulations and application schedules, but also depends strongly on the soil type and the plant variety used. This means that every farm is different and not all microbes will benefit plant growth. For this reason, we have developed a proprietary bespoke approach to ensure that the best microbial biofertilisers are used for each farming situation. For details please connect to the Sustainable Solutions Hub or contact us here.