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Harnessing the Power of Soil and Plant Microbes for Environmental and Agronomic Sustainability

Harnessing the Power of Soil and Plant Microbes for Environmental and Agronomic Sustainability
Pictured at a Microbiome stakeholder workshop which was held at Teagasc, Johnstown Castle were from (L to R): David Wall, Fiona Brennan, Frank O'Mara, Teagasc, Peter Cotgreave, Fiona Doohan UCD, Tim Mauchline and Paul Cotter Teagasc. Picture: Patrick Browne

An all-Island stakeholder workshop on the soil and plant microbiome was held on Tuesday, 23 May, at the Teagasc Crops, Environment and Land use centre, Johnstown Castle, Wexford. The aim of the workshop was to identify key opportunities offered to agriculture, the environment and the bioeconomy, by developments in microbiome research. The workshop brought together a wide range of stakeholders, with a specific interest in the soil and plant microbiome, to discuss how insights into the functioning of communities of organisms living within soils and plants could be harnessed to promote environmental and agronomic sustainability. This included researchers from across the island of Ireland, in addition to some international experts, and stakeholders from the agricultural sector, research funders and companies.

The event focused on mapping current research efforts and expertise in the soil and plant microbiome area, and how these could translate to impact in the agricultural sector. Attendees also identified current restraints to research in this area and initiatives that would progress research to utilise opportunities offered by new technologies in this field.

Opening the event, Director of Research at Teagasc, Prof Frank O’Mara said: “The Teagasc Technology Foresight report identified the microbiome as one of 5 key transformative technology areas that will be crucial for the agri-food industry in the next two decades.  Great advances in the study of the human gut microbiome have been made by Irish scientists, mainly working in the APC Microbiome Institute, and there is now the opportunity to learn from this and advance the study of the soil/plant microbiome and the animal gut microbiome in the search for breakthroughs in topics such as feed efficiency, soil nutrient efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions.”

According to Fiona Brennan, soil microbiologist in Teagasc, “The critical importance of soil and plant microbiomes in the functioning of agronomic systems and in the health of the environment cannot be overstated. In many respects they represent the engine of a whole host of soil functions. While their importance has long been known, new technologies are providing exciting and hitherto unattainable insights into the communities of organisms within soils. By understanding how these organisms function, and how they are affected by environmental, management and soil factors, there is great potential to manage soils in such a way to utilise the benefits these microorganisms inherently bring to agriculture, while at the same time reducing environmental losses. Research on the soil and plant microbiome will play a central role in efforts to meet global challenges of food security, climate change, antimicrobial resistance and sustainable agriculture”

Chief Executive of the Microbiological Society, Dr Peter Cotgreave, commented; “The Microbiology Society’s members study all kinds of microbes, and when they come together to talk about soil and plant microbiomes, it is clear there is huge potential to inform strategies for agricultural development and environmental sustainability. It is also clear that success will depend on scientists from different disciplines working closely, and with research funders, farmers, and policy-makers to identify the most important priorities in this complex and fascinating area.”