Bacteria and fungi are two key groups of micro-organisms in soils. Their activities are essential for carbon and mineral cycling and plant performance. Fungal and bacterial activities cannot be considered separately as both groups are present in the same (soil) environment and many interactions are going on. Knowledge of these interactions is not only important to get a better understanding of the role of microbes in below-ground ecosystem processes, but does also give insight in the impact that fungi and bacteria have on each other’s ecology and evolution.
Most bacteria and all fungi are organotrophs (also called saprotrophs) which implies that they obtain their energy for growth from decomposition of organic compounds. Within this context of energy-generation, different niches have developed during evolution of terrestrial microbial life. Saprotrophic fungi dominate an important niche in terrestrial ecosystems, namely decomposition of ligno-cellulose rich material, such as wood. Bacteria have been have been able to keep a prominent position in the degradation of simple substrates such as sugars and organic acids exuded by roots. However, interactions between bacteria and fungi are ongoing during decomposition of both simple and recalcitrant compounds. The abundance of fungi in terrestrial ecosystems has also created novel niches for bacteria e.g. fungal-exudate consumers, fungal-eating bacteria (mycophagy) and bacteria living inside fungi (endo-symbionts).
The study of fungal-bacterial interactions in soils is not only interesting from a basic scientific point of view but is also yielding findings of societal and economical relevance. This can be illustrated by the application of bacteria for biocontrol of fungal plant diseases, growing of mushrooms and stimulation of mycorrhizal infection. Bacteria that are harmful to fungi may in potential also form a source of new antibiotics with therapeutic value. A better basic understanding of the in situ interactions between such bacteria and fungi will result in much more straightforward approaches to screen for new antibiotics.
For current and former projects, recent findings as well as review papers see projects at personal page Wietse de Boer
There is close collaboration with the Soil Biology group of the Wageningen University, where Wietse de Boer holds a professorship (special chair: Microbial Soil Ecology).