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Global diversity and ecosystem functions of a newly discovered plant-microbe symbiosis


Project Description

Project Highlights
• We have discovered a previously unknown plant-microbial symbiosis with global distribution
• You will unravel the diversity of the fungal symbionts involved, the factors which control their distribution, and determine its potential contribution to ecosystem processes through genome analysis
• The project will provide training in a wide range of modern molecular ecological analyses in combination with bioinformatic analyses

Overview
Arbuscular mycorrhizas (AM) are the most widespread symbiosis between higher plants and fungi, and have major impacts on ecosystem processes, including biogeochemical cycling and the diversity and productivity of plant communities. Fungi forming AM have been assumed to comprise the phylum Glomeromycota. However, we have shown that fungi which form the distinctive ‘fine root endophyte’ (FRE) AM morphotype are actually members of the phylum Mucoromycota, which diverged from the Glomeromycota over 700 million years ago, before the colonization of land by plants. Although we know that FRE are globally distributed, and can be abundant within ecosystems, we know almost nothing about the diversity, ecology or ecosystem function of the fungi involved. However, evidence suggests that FREs and Glomeromycota have different interactions with the environment and may be functionally distinct. In this project you will investigate the diversity and composition of FRE across UK and Australian habitats and plant families, and determine the key environmental and soil factors which determine assembly of FRE communities. FREs are not culturable and cannot be grown in pure culture. In order to understand the ecological function of FREs, you will assemble genomes of FREs from environmental metagenomes. The assembled genomes will used to investigate the presence of traits associated with key biogeochemical cycling processes, so that the ecological significance of FRE can be established.

Methodology
We will use soil DNA from the Countryside Survey to investigate landscape diversity and distribution of FRE. Countryside survey is a regular audit of the UK countryside covering all common UK habitats, including grasslands, arable fields, heaths and woodlands. Over 1000 samples are available. This work will be supplemented with samples from Australian ecosystems to enable a global picture of FRE diversity and distribution to be established. Data from this study will be used to select specific sites for more detailed analysis of FRE distribution, such as seasonal variation and plant species preferences for FRE. Sites with contrasting communities of FRE will be selected for metagenome sequencing, and bioinformatic approaches will be used to reconstruct genomes of FRE, to enable analysis of the potential contribution of FRE to soil biogeochemical processes.

Training and skills
Training will be provided in a wide range of molecular techniques (DNA extraction, PCR, sequencing), ecological analysis methods (multivariate analysis and network analysis), metagenome sequencing and bioinformatics.
CENTA students are required to complete 50 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to CENTA research themes.

Partners and collaboration
The student will have a training placement at Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Bangor, examining the diversity and distribution of FREs and Glomeromycotan fungi in large national scale sequencing datasets.
There will be opportunities for a research placement at the University of Western Australia, Perth (dependent on funding) for field work to collect samples from Australian habitats.

Funding Notes

Funding eligibility criteria apply. Please visit the School of Life Sciences NERC CENTA webpage for more information.

References

Further reading
Orchard, S., Hilton, S., Bending, G.D., Dickie, I.A., Standish, R.J., Gleeson, D., Jeffery, R.P., Powell, J.R., Walker, C., Bass, D., Monk, J., Simonin, A., Ryan, M.H. A. (2016) Fine endophytes (Glomus tenue) phylogenetically align with Mucoromycotina, not Glomeromycota. New Phytologist 213, 481-486.

Orchard, S., Standish, R.J., Dickie, I.A., Walker, C., Moot, D, Ryan, M.H. (2017) Fine root endophytes under scrutiny: a review of the literature on arbuscule-producing fungi recently suggested to belong to the Mucoromycotina. Mycorrhiza 27, 619-638.

How good is research at University of Warwick in Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 12.60

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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