Antibiotic discovery in the wheat rhizosphere


This project is focussed on the interactions between common bread wheat Triticum aestivum, which provides fundamental nutrition to much of the world’s population, and antibiotic-producing Streptomyces bacteria. Streptomyces species make 50% of all known antibiotics but most of the antibiotics they encode are not made under laboratory growth conditions, and we suspect this is because their production is switched on by host or environmental signals which we have not yet identified, including plant root exudates.

Plants exude up to 40% of their fixed carbon through their roots and these root exudates attract bacteria and thus help the plants assemble a beneficial microbiome that boosts the plant immune system, protects against disease and helps the plants access nutrients from the soil. These beneficial bacteria include Streptomyces species and we have shown that some Streptomyces strains can protect wheat plants against the Take-all fungus which is the most commercially important disease of wheat worldwide. Some of these strains also boost the growth of wheat plants by providing nutrients and making plant growth hormones.

This interdisciplinary project is focused on identifying the best strains for promoting wheat growth and protecting against Take-all from a library of strains we have isolated from wheat roots. The successful applicant will also identify the antibiotics responsible for these protective effects and determine whether the production of these (and other) antibiotics are switched on by wheat root exudates.

This is a collaboration between Matt Hutchings at UEA and Barrie Wilkinson and Anne Osbourne at the John Innes Centre and offers excellent training and access to state-of-the-art research facilities. There will be opportunities to commercialise the outputs from this project and to engage in science communication at festivals and schools to widen the impact of the research.