Secret helpers in the underground

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As part of the TUM@Freising lecture series, Caroline Gutjahr will talk about the
As part of the TUM@Freising lecture series, Caroline Gutjahr will talk about the fascinating world of root symbioses and answer questions about them. Image: U. Benz / TUM

Plants do not live alone, but are colonized by countless bacteria and fungi. Caroline Gutjahr, Professor of Plant Genetics at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), will explain the positive influences exerted by some of these organisms on Monday, January 31, 2022. At the online lecture in the TUM@Freising lecture series, she will talk about how plants and microorganisms interact to mutual advantage, and which benefits microorganisms can have in sustainable agriculture.

Plants form symbiotic relationships with fungi and bacteria, which colonize the inside of the root. For example, about 80 percent of terrestrial plants harbor arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi - fungi that transport nutrients from the soil directly into plant roots in a branching network of filamentous structures called hyphae. In this way, they improve plant nutrient uptake and in return receive sugars and fats that are produced by the plant from CO2 with the help of photosynthesis.

Another example of symbiosis with fungi is provided by many trees in temperate and colder climates, which form symbiotic relationships with the so-called ectomycorrhizal fungi. These fungi produce edible fruiting bodies and are found only in symbiosis with certain tree species (e.g., truffles with oak and hazel).

An example of symbiosis with bacteria is provided by a small group of plants, such as legumes, which form symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These bacteria live in root nodules, which are formed during root colonization. Nitrogen fixation in their roots makes plants independent of nitrogen in the soil or nitrogen fertilizer.

Although the symbioses in the soil are difficult to access, modern molecular biology methods allow us to decipher the precise ways in which these symbioses function.

"Much is still unknown, but significant progress has already been made in understanding these symbioses, for example how symbiotic fungi or bacteria communicate with their host plants via chemical compounds, or how nutrients are exchanged", says Caroline Gutjahr, Professor of Plant Genetics at TUM.

In her lecture, Prof. Caroline Gutjahr will give an insight into the fascinating world of root symbioses. She will explain how to research investigate the functioning of these symbioses and what potential they have, for example to in reducing the use less of artificial fertilizers in sustainable agriculture.

After the online lecture via Zoom (password: 903712), all interested parties are invited to ask their questions to the speaker via the chat function using Zoom. The Q&A session will be moderated by Philipp Benz, Professor of Fungal Biotechnology in Wood Science at TUM.