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Priority Programm 2125: Deconstruction and Reconstruction of the Plant Microbiota: DECRyPT
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
DFG Information für die Wissenschaft Nr. 45, 17. Juli 2017/ The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme Deconstruction and Reconstruction of the Plant Microbiota: DECRyPT (SPP 2125). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

In nature, the roots and leaves of plants engage in intimate associations with an enormous diversity of microbes including bacteria, fungi, oomycetes and protists. Collectively, the microbial assemblage of a plant is called the plant microbiota and the sum of the plant-inhabiting microbial genomes the plant microbiome . Previous studies have demonstrated beneficial functions of individual members of these microbial assemblages for plant hosts, including nutrient mobilisation and uptake, protection against plant pathogens, or abiotic stress tolerance. However, lack of fundamental knowledge on principles underlying community establishment and functions conferred by microbe-microbe and/or microbe-host interactions in these assemblages makes it currently impossible to predict whether individual members of the microbiota retain their beneficial activities in a microbial community context.

The central scientific objectives of this Priority Programme are to obtain a deep and more predictive understanding of plant-microbiota associations and to develop pioneering reductionist approaches towards a molecular understanding of plant microbiota functions. The programme will elucidate genetic factors underlying plant microbiota establishment, test presumed community adaptation in ecological contexts and define community-associated emergent properties. Computational and genomic tools will guide hypothesis-testing and the design of microbiota reconstitution experiments in controlled environments.

The programme aims at a pragmatic understanding of the plant microbiota by application of systematic reductionist approaches, including the deconstruction and reconstruction of microbial assemblages. The deconstruction phase involves establishment of model microbial culture collections from plants grown in contrasting natural environments and microbial whole-genome sequencing of pure strains. The reconstruction phase includes microbiota reconstitution experiments using gnotobiotic plant systems to test the impact of different microbes and defined environments on plant fitness parameters such as disease resistance, nutrient acquisition, metabolism and abiotic stress tolerance under laboratory conditions, towards understanding their roles in nature.

To maximise the potential for synergies and cross-referencing of data, two model plants will be employed in this Priority Programme, the dicotyledonous model Arabidopsis thaliana (and related sister species) and the legume symbiosis model Lotus japonicus (or related Lotus corniculatus). The cereal crop model Hordeum vulgare can be used additionally for comparative analyses in clearly justified cases. Programme members are encouraged to use a standardised natural substrate (to be determined by the programme steering committee) and characterised microbiota culture collections. We particularly encourage projects, which move from exploratory to mechanistic studies over the course of this Priority Programme. For accurate and high-resolution analysis of microbiome data, the programme will establish a central platform providing computational and genomic tools to the members. It will also provide access to comprehensive microbe culture collections. The Priority Programme will not cover binary interactions between host plants and a single microbe, the virome of plants, or studies focussing on soil biophysics or soil geochemistry, as this would dilute the focus of the programme on understanding the molecular basis and ecological relevance of plant-associated microbial assemblages.
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