Can we train soil microbial communities to promote plant growth?

Eiko Kuramae greenhouse
© Perro de Jong / NIOO-KNAW

Can we train soil microbial communities to promote plant growth?


Microbial communities are vital for ecosystem functions, and utilizing their diversity, particularly in phosphate-solubilising microbial communities, can provide sustainable solutions for agriculture. However, constructing and optimizing these communities present challenges due to complex interactions among microorganisms.

In a pioneering study, scientists applied eco-evolutionary principles to answer this question. They used innovative artificial selection techniques, such as environmental perturbation and propagation, to engineer microbial communities that would enhance phosphate solubilization. The results were impressive, with a 24.2% increase in activity compared to standard soil communities, highlighting the effectiveness of community-level artificial selection, especially via propagation.

Furthermore, subsequent evaluation in a hydroponics system showed that communities selected through propagation consistently increased soluble phosphate levels, indicating their effectiveness in plant systems.

The study offers efficient methods for selecting beneficial microbial communities, demonstrating that farming soil microbial communities using artificial selection can improve plant growth and promote sustainability.

The study was conducted by Faller, L., Leite, M.F.A. & Kuramae, E.E. and was published in Nature Communications on 23rd February 2024.