University of California, Riverside, biologist Joel Sachs and University of Texas biologist Ulrich Mueller saw that some of the plants in their lab were bigger than the others, even though they were genetically the same. The biologists reasoned that it had to be the differences in the soil that was causing the phenomenon, Gizmodo reports.
To find out if their reasoning was correct, the pair “harvested microbes from the soil around the roots of the larger plants, then transferred it to sterile soil and planted seeds,” according to Gizmodo. The process was repeated multiple times to get the best soil microbes. As a result, the plants grew larger. Sachs and Mueller say this means the artificial selection they conducted produced better soil microbes. Better soil microbes could mean a way for farmers to improve their crops.
“Selecting artificial microbiomes may be a cheaper way to help curb plant and animal diseases rather than pesticides and antibiotics or creating genetically modified organisms,” Mueller said, according to Gizmodo. “The methods to generate host-mediated artificial selection on root microbiomes are super simple. All you need is a syringe and a filter, and any farmer in any location could potentially do this to engineer microbiomes that are specific to the problems of the specific location where the farmer attempts to grow food.”
To find out more, read Sachs and Mueller’s study in the journal Trends in Microbiology.