Plant Microbiome

Growing plants under controlled environment conditions is revolutionizing food production

Microbes are everywhere

Microbes influence plant health and growth, and they also impact food safety. The Healthy Hydroponics project is an Ontario-funded collaborative project for investigating the microbes within all types of hydroponic growing systems.

Microbes are present almost everywhere, and that includes hydroponic growing systems of all different designs. The microbes present in hydroponic systems are distributed rapidly throughout the system by the nutrient solution. These microbes may be beneficial and promote plant growth, or they may cause plant disease or become a food safety issue. Currently there are practices for the prevention of disease in commercial grow settings, yet there is often very limited feedback on how those practices are working, until disease symptoms are visible. By monitoring the microbes in the system it may be possible to detect the proliferation of disease causing microbes or foodborne pathogens early, and monitor the survival of beneficial microbes that help the plants to grow and also ward off the disease causing microbes.

During the course of this project a number of greenhouses and indoor farms — many of which use recirculating hydroponic growing systems — will be sampled, and the microbiome analyzed using the latest DNA sequencing methods in our lab in Waterloo. We will use this information to develop a baseline microbiome dataset for what to expect in hydroponic systems. There may be many different configurations of healthy microbiomes, and we will get to see if they are all similar and also how they respond to growing conditions.

We will also be developing ways to make the monitoring of the microbiome more quantitative. Currently, the most cost-effective methods show a relative abundance of microbes present in the sample. This can be useful information, but it would be even more meaninful if absolute quantities are known. Our new methods will make this possible.

We will use the wealth of data produced by this project to develop genetic fingerprints for more rapid detection of specific microbes in the field, including plant disease and human disease causing microbes, These will form the basis of new rapid microbiome monitoring services that we will be able to offer to growers.

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