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Information für die Wissenschaft Nr. 45 | 17. Juli 2017
Priority Programme “Deconstruction and Reconstruction of the Plant Microbiota: DECRyPT” (SPP 2125)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “Deconstruction and Reconstruction of the Plant Microbiota: DECRyPT” (SPP 2125). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

In nature, the roots and leaves of plants engage in intimate associations with an enormous diversity of microbes including bacteria, fungi, oomycetes and protists. Collectively, the microbial assemblage of a plant is called the “plant microbiota” and the sum of the plant-inhabiting microbial genomes the “plant microbiome”. Previous studies have demonstrated beneficial functions of individual members of these microbial assemblages for plant hosts, including nutrient mobilisation and uptake, protection against plant pathogens, or abiotic stress tolerance. However, lack of fundamental knowledge on principles underlying community establishment and functions conferred by microbe-microbe and/or microbe-host interactions in these assemblages makes it currently impossible to predict whether individual members of the microbiota retain their beneficial activities in a microbial community context.

The central scientific objectives of this Priority Programme are to obtain a deep and more predictive understanding of plant-microbiota associations and to develop pioneering reductionist approaches towards a molecular understanding of plant microbiota functions. The programme will elucidate genetic factors underlying plant microbiota establishment, test presumed community adaptation in ecological contexts and define community-associated emergent properties. Computational and genomic tools will guide hypothesis-testing and the design of microbiota reconstitution experiments in controlled environments.

The programme aims at a pragmatic understanding of the plant microbiota by application of systematic reductionist approaches, including the deconstruction and reconstruction of microbial assemblages. The deconstruction phase involves establishment of model microbial culture collections from plants grown in contrasting natural environments and microbial whole-genome sequencing of pure strains. The reconstruction phase includes microbiota reconstitution experiments using gnotobiotic plant systems to test the impact of different microbes and defined environments on plant fitness parameters such as disease resistance, nutrient acquisition, metabolism and abiotic stress tolerance under laboratory conditions, towards understanding their roles in nature.

To maximise the potential for synergies and cross-referencing of data, two model plants will be employed in this Priority Programme, the dicotyledonous model Arabidopsis thaliana (and related sister species) and the legume symbiosis model Lotus japonicus (or related Lotus corniculatus). The cereal crop model Hordeum vulgare can be used additionally for comparative analyses in clearly justified cases. Programme members are encouraged to use a standardised natural substrate (to be determined by the programme steering committee) and characterised microbiota culture collections. We particularly encourage projects, which move from exploratory to mechanistic studies over the course of this Priority Programme. For accurate and high-resolution analysis of microbiome data, the programme will establish a central platform providing computational and genomic tools to the members. It will also provide access to comprehensive microbe culture collections. The Priority Programme will not cover binary interactions between host plants and a single microbe, the virome of plants, or studies focussing on soil biophysics or soil geochemistry, as this would dilute the focus of the programme on understanding the molecular basis and ecological relevance of plant-associated microbial assemblages.

Research areas addressed in this Priority Programme:

  • Community-level assembly of plant microbiota.Goals are:
    • to identify keystone species and key processes involved in the assembly of plant microbiota,
    • to test the contribution of plant-microbe and microbe-microbe interactions to community assembly and microbiota-influenced host traits,
    • to identify mechanisms underlying plant-microbiota resilience to genetic, nutritional and/or environmental perturbations.
  • Role of the plant immune system in shaping plant microbiota.Goals are:
    • to test whether mechanistic principles for innate immunity or symbiosis in binary plant-microbe interactions also apply at the community level,
    • to establish how variation in innate immunity recognition and signalling influences microbial community structure and function,
    • to elucidate processes by which plants discriminate between pathogen and beneficial microbes in a community context.
  • Ecological relevance of plant microbiota.Goals are:
    • to survey the diversity and composition of plant microbiota in natural plant populations and ecologically contrasting habitats, or across a range of natural host ecotypes,
    • to test assembly of plant microbiota under a broad range of environmental conditions in controlled experiments.
  • Collective toolkit development.Goals are:
    • to establish computational pipelines for meta-genomics, meta-transcriptomics, network construction and genome mining,
    • to standardise protocols and procedures for controlled plant-microbe inoculation experiments.

Please indicate in your proposal which research area(s) your project will contribute to.

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 11 October 2017. Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. To enter a new project within the Priority Programme, go to Proposal Submission – New Project/Draft Proposal – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2125 DECRyPT” from the current list of calls.

In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal. In addition to submitting your proposal through elan, please send an electronic copy to the programme coordinator.

Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 29 September 2017 to submit a proposal under this call. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. You will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process. Please include a title page with your name, your address, and the title of your project.

Depending on the number of applications the review process might include a colloquium with the applicants that will then take place in Cologne or Bonn in January/February 2018. The envisioned start of funding will be summer 2018.

Further Information

More information on the Priority Programme is available at:

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01 can be downloaded at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:

  • Professorin Dr. Alga Zuccaro,
    Universität zu Köln,
    Department für Biologie, Botanisches Institut,
    phone +49 221 470-7170,
    azuccaro@uni-koeln.de

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact:


Note:
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