Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: CASE Studentships

How does a synthetic consortium of beneficial microbes improve herb productivity and quality

Project No. 2151

Primary Supervisor

Louisa Robinson Boyer – NIAB EMR


Xiangming Xu – NIAB EMR

Gary Robinson – University of Kent


Association of plants with beneficial microbes is multi-functional, including assisting plants in nutrient acquisition, water uptake and mediating carbon transfer, and protecting roots from pathogens.

Applying synthetic microbiomes to growing substrate or phyllosphere has been shown to alter protein production, essential oil and VOC content of plants.

This study will assess whether and, if so, how amending growing substrate with beneficial microbes can improve productivity and quality of two globally important herbs: coriander (Coriandrum sativum) and Basil (Ocimum basilicum). Herb sales in the UK alone are worth ca. £78 million.

Protected cropping systems are used for commercial UK herb production primarily to enable year-round production, ensure uniformity and mitigate the threat of water stress and soil-borne fungal pathogens. However, this practise relies heavily on high inputs of water and fertigation. Commercial substrates are usually depleted of microbes and consequently the introduction of beneficial microbes is likely to benefit commercial cropping systems.

Aims and objectives:

This proposal is focused on understand whether and how beneficial microbes affect herb productivity and quality in substrate under protected conditions in order to develop a synthetic microbiome for commercial herb production.

This project has the following specific objectives:

  1. To assess whether individual or combined use of beneficial microbes improves the productivity and quality, including the following traits: germination, growth rate, uniformity, yield, tolerance to water stress and pathogens, improved post-harvest shelf life and VOC profiles.
  2. To understand plant responses to specific microbial amendment in terms of plant endophytes, metatranscriptomic and metabolomic profiling to interpret the observed phenotypic effects.

This study would be supported by the growing facilities at NIAB EMR, this facility will be updated as part of the UKRI Strength in Places grant. Amplicon sequencing and nanopore expertise are available at NIAB EMR. University of Kent will provide facilities and expertise for VOC detection and metabolomic profiling using LC/GC MS and NMR.