Over 25% of the globe is covered with plants, which provide life sustaining food to both human and animal populations. In addition, plants release oxygen into the atmosphere which is the lifeline for all human beings and animals. While it is generally understood that what you see above surface typically represents half of a plant’s biomass with the rest below the surface, what may not be so well known is that millions of microbes inhabit plants. These are known as the plant microbiota. Forming complex communities and interactions, these populations of microscopic bacteria and fungi, and a host of other microorganisms, support a plant’s life cycle.
Through exciting research we now know that these microbes can actually enhance how plants perform. Whether it is increasing a plant’s use of available nutrients in the soil, helping a plant be more robust against environmental change or withstanding diseases, the plant microbiome plays a key part in enhancing plant productivity. When it comes to food production these activities of plant microbiomes are critically important. Food production needs to increase because by 2050 we need to be able to sustain a global population of over 9.5 billion people, versus 7.6 billion today, with less available resources while also trying to also combat the effects of climate change. Using technologies that capture and characterise thousands of microbes it is now possible to identify individual ‘microbiome profiles’ for specific crops (e.g. potato, barley, wheat). As a result, the research community is actively testing microbe-plant combinations to identify microbes that can used by farmers to produce more from less; that results in greater yields with better quality but with a reduced reliance on fertilisers and chemicals.