FABI was delighted to host Dr Jonathan Plett, a leading mycologist, from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University, Australia from 28-30 August. Over the three days at FABI, Dr Plett met with various research groups in the Institute to discuss their work and explore potential future collaborative projects on plant-microbe interactions and plant health.

Dr Plett is a pioneer in decoding the genetic basis enabling plants to form symbiotic relationships with beneficial rather than pathogenic microbes. The broad aim of his ongoing research is to identify and understand how signals are sent and perceived by plants and their associated microbiota to coordinate development and enable this ecosystem to survive under less than ideal conditions. Outcomes of this research are important for screening new tree and crop lines to find the ‘sweet spot’ in immune defence that enables plants to maximise benefits from mycorrhizal fungi without compromising disease resistance.

As part of the visit Dr Plett presented a thought provoking talk, entitled: “Tuning in to rhizosphere radio: Decoding the conversations between plants and microbes to breed more sustainable crops” that outlined his fascinating research on symbioses and mycorrhizal interactions of plants, including Eucalypts. He described how to ‘listen in’ on these molecular dialogues that occur between host and microbial cells and to understand how plants are able to distinguish between beneficial and detrimental associations with the huge number of microbes found within the rhizosphere.  Dr Plett also outlined recent advances in understanding how the plant hosts are able to deploy different types of defenses depending upon the microbes present in the soil and how microbes attempt to manipulate these defence responses.