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Ongoing project

Novel microbiome technologies to increase profitability for Australian horticulture (AS19004)

Key research provider: Murdoch University

What's it all about?

This investment is tasked with developing and deploying new microbiome technologies that will increase the yield, and therefore profitability, of annual and perennial Australian horticultural crops.

These new technologies will be developed by analysing the microbiomes associated with the lifecycle of crops from seed to harvest. The project team will assess how these microbiomes change when exposed to biotic or abiotic stresses. The overall aim is to select combinations of microorganisms that are associated with crops that exhibit higher tolerance to these stresses and develop these into new products that increase crop yield.

The project has entered phase two, where the focus is on identifying suitable locations for field trials and demonstration sites. Two tomato trial sites have been established, one at a large commercial vegetable farm and the second at a smaller farm that has not previously grown tomatoes on the selected site. Additionally, a site at the university farm has been identified for planting a small avocado plantation and possibly potatoes. The team has selected three different biological products for trials in collaboration with two product partners. One of these partners has expressed interest in sponsoring the establishment of the avocado plantation.

The first PhD candidate passed their confirmation of candidature in November and commenced practical work on tomatoes, while the second PhD candidate commenced in January and has selected avocados as their focus. The postdoctoral fellow joined the team in late January and completed on-boarding activities, worked with the students, and developed their workplan. The team will work together to cover the three crops and plant compartments to examine the microbiome variation.

The first tomato trials are currently in progress with soil samples collected before the application of products. The crops are being monitored throughout the growing season for performance and yield, with biomass and other parameters measured at the end of the season. Details for metabarcoding and metagenomic analyses of soil and plant samples are being finalized, and the first two metagenome-assembled genomes are expected to be drafted in the next six months.

Several press releases have been released via different partners, and other outlets have picked them up. Two manuscripts are currently in preparation arising from the Situation Analysis completed in Phase one, and the first commencing PhD student is preparing their literature review for publication. In collaboration with the international partner, the Phytobiome Alliance, the project leader has contributed to an international review paper on microbiomes, which is hoped to be submitted for publication next quarter.

Finally, a new partner, Ecogrowth, has joined the project, replacing Thinkbio, which was sold to an international company. Ecogrowth is already closely involved with the tomato trials and assisting with planning for the avocado PhD sampling sites.

The first phase of this project was a desktop-based situation analysis, to determine gaps in the Australian crop enhancement product market and assess the superiority of microbiome-based products.  The major findings of this analysis were reviewed at a stakeholder workshop, with several research questions identified for the second phase of this project.