Our biotechnology research is focused on the use of micro-organisms to enhance plant growth, manage disease and improve agricultural and waste processing.
Soil and plant microbiomes

Soil contains diverse and dynamic populations of bacteria and fungi that impact plant growth, nutrient cycling and greenhouse gas emissions. We are interested in characterising the microbial communities that associate with plant roots and understanding how these are impacted by the host plant and environment.

  •  We employ next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics to assess microbial communities within soils and plants.
  • Through understanding the factors that impact assembly of the plant-associated microbiomes, we deliberately manipulate the microbiome to promote plant growth/health.
Bioprotectant microbes

Regulatory changes and consumer pressures are driving the need for effective bioprotectants to replace agricultural chemicals in the management of plant disease. Our research interests are in identifying and characterising bioprotectant microbes that can be used to suppress plant diseases.

  • Our expertise includes the use of both bacteria and fungi as bioprotectants, either as single strains or in designed consortia. We have extensive microbial collections, including >1300 plant-associating Trichoderma isolated from across New Zealand.
  • We employ a combination of in vitro screening for antagonism towards known plant pathogens and plant disease assays to identify potential bioprotectants.
  • Determining the mechanism of protection afforded to the host plant by the bioprotectant microbes is performed through transcriptome and microscopic analysis.
Plant growth-promoting microbes

A lack of available forms of nitrogen and phosphate are frequently limiting factors of plant growth. Our research aims to harness the potential of nitrogen-fixing bacteria and phosphate solubilising microbes to reduce synthetic fertiliser use.

  • In vitro characterisation of nitrogen-fixing and phosphate-solubilising capacity combined with plant trials allows us to examine nitrogen-fixing efficiency, root colonisation and ultimately the potential of particular isolates for use in the field.
  • Understanding synergistic effects of microbes with complementary attributes to produce microbial consortia with optimal performance is assessed through microbiome studies and plant trials.
Microbial processing of waste

Microbes have an important role to play in supporting a circular economy through the conversion of wastes to value-added products. Our research interests include assembling microbial consortia to optimally process wastes e.g., microbial production of biogas from agricultural wastes.

Contact: Simon Kelly for all Biotechnology

Latest Publications

Application of ecosystem-specific reference databases for increased taxonomic resolution in soil microbial profiling, Front. Microbiol
Overgaard, C K, Tao, K, Zhang, S, Christensen, B T, Blahovska, Z, Radutoiu, S, Kelly, S, Dueholm, M K D
A glycan receptor kinase facilitates intracellular accommodation of arbuscular mycorrhiza and symbiotic rhizobia in the legume Lotus japonicus, PLOS Biology
Kelly, S, et al
Nitrogen source and Nod factor signaling map out the assemblies of Lotus japonicus root bacterial communities, bioRxiv
Tao, K, Jensen, I T, Zhang, S, Villa-Rodriguez, E, Blahovska, Z, Salomonsen, C L, Martyn, A, Bjorgvinsdottir, T N, Kelly, S, Janss, L, Glasius, M, Waagepetersen, R, Radutoiu S