Understanding and engineering beneficial plant–microbe interactions: Plant growth promotion in energy crops

Kerrie Farrar, David Bryant, Naomi Cope-Selby

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Plant production systems globally must be optimized to produce stable high yields from limited land under changing and variable climates. Demands for food, animal feed, and feedstocks for bioenergy and biorefining applications, are increasing with population growth, urbanization and affluence. Low-input, sustainable, alternatives to petrochemical-derived fertilizers and pesticides
are required to reduce input costs and maintain or increase yields, with potential biological solutions having an important role to play. In contrast to crops that have been bred for food, many bioenergy crops are largely undomesticated, and so there is an opportunity to harness beneficial plant–microbe relationships which may have been inadvertently lost through intensive crop breeding. Plant–microbe interactions span a wide range of relationships in which one or both of the organisms may have a beneficial, neutral or negative effect on the other partner.
A relatively small number of beneficial plant–microbe interactions are well understood and already exploited; however, others remain understudied and represent an untapped reservoir for optimizing plant production. There may be near-term applications for bacterial strains as microbial biopesticides and biofertilizers to increase biomass yield from energy crops grown on land unsuitable for food production. Longer term aims involve the design of synthetic genetic circuits within and between the host and microbes to optimize plant production. A highly exciting prospect is that endosymbionts comprise a unique resource of reduced complexity microbial genomes with adaptive traits of great interest for a wide variety of applications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1193-1206
Number of pages14
JournalPlant Biotechnology Journal
Issue number9
Early online date28 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • bacterial endophyte
  • sustainable agriculture
  • biofertilization
  • symbiosis
  • plant–microbe signalling


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