K. Liu, Bonito, Edger and Hamberger awarded NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity Grant

Kevin Liu, Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering of Michigan State University, with Gregory Bonito (Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences), Patrick Edger (Horticulture), and Bjoern Hamberger (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), have been awarded a Dimensions of Biodiversity grant from the National Science Foundation for the project entitled "Dimensions: Phylogenetic and Functional Diversity of Tripartite Plant-Fungal-Bacterial Symbioses".

This project will investigate the diversity, evolution and ecological functions within a diverse lineage of fungi, the Mucoromycota. These fungi are industrially important for lipid production and as biofertilizers in agricultural systems. Fungi belonging to the Mucoromycota have co-evolved with plants through innovations that include mycorrhizal and endophytic growth habits within the plant tissues, and are implicated in terrestrialization of Earth. Intriguingly, many of the fungi in this group are plant growth promoters, and carry within their cells bacterial endosymbionts belonging to lineages of bacteria that are only known only from fungi. Some of these bacteria produce potent toxins. This research will investigate the role of these endobacteria on their fungal host's growth and metabolism, and the impact of endobacteria on fungal-plant interactions. This research will result in a culture collection of Mucoromycota fungi with vouchered isolates that will be databased and deposited in culture collections. References DNA barcodes and genome sequences from these isolates and collections will be integrated into sequence-based classifiers serving as a resource for the broader community. This project will also result in a short-course on "Computational Thinking in Biodiversity and Evolutionary Research", and an assessment of traditional agriculture and cultural practices impact Mucoromycota fungi in the soil. Overall, this research will provide diverse and cross-disciplinary education, training, and outreach to postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students.

To accomplish these goals, the researchers will compare and analyze entire holobiont (plant-fungal-bacterial) genomes to identify symbiosis traits that have co-evolved in plant-fungi-bacteria partners. Metatranscriptomics will be used to assess the impact of bacterial endosymbionts on the function of their fungal host and its ability to interact with plants. Changes in host plant phenotype, metabolome, transcriptome, and resilience to abiotic stress will be assessed through bioassay experimentation. The phylogenetic dimension will integrate evolution and genomics to provide a robust phylogenomic framework and new computational tools for estimating co-evolutionary and horizontal gene transfer processes between Mucoromycota and their bacterial endosymbionts. The genetic dimension will apply genomic and metatranscriptomic studies of plant-fungal-bacterial symbionts, selected with guidance provided by the phylogenomics, to identify critical genes involved in symbiotic interactions. The functional component will dissect the role of candidate genes for plant host fitness in the context of different plant-fungal/bacterial partners and abiotic stressors. Together this integrated research will foster interdisciplinary collaborations to provide novel insights into the diversity, evolution and functioning of tripartite multi-kingdom symbiosis.

(Date Posted: 2017-08-14)