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What is a Phytobiome?

This holistic view of plants and everything around them may be the answer to feeding the world’s growing population. 

By Marilyn Cummins, Writer

Posted Jun. 24, 2020

Seven years ago, a group of scientists met to discuss how crop production could possibly meet the food needs of the 9 billion people expected to be on the earth by the year 2050. Out of that meeting came a new word — “phytobiome” — to describe plants, their environment and the complex world of organisms associated with them.

Why is this new word and concept important to producers? Because to be able to increase production quickly and sustainably, producers will need to consider and learn to manage the whole phytobiome with a systems approach rather than focusing on individual components alone, according to the Phytobiomes Roadmap developed by American Phytopathological Society.

Interactions within phytobiomes, such as croplands and rangelands, are dynamic and affect the health of soil, plants and the entire ecosystem. Researchers believe a richer understanding of phytobiomes will lead to new practices that can maximize yields while protecting the land.

example

Phytobiome = A plant (phyto) in a specific ecological area (biome).

It includes the plant itself, the environment and all organisms living in, on or around the plant.

Research in many disciplines will initially look deep into the phytobiome networks and collect information on all the components. For example, scientists now can identify and sequence the genes of large numbers of soil microbes to take a snapshot of well-performing communities. Knowing just what kind of microbiome a particular plant needs in order to flourish may let producers grow such plants, and others, on depleted soils.

The best practices for a given field or pasture will consider the interactions of all phytobiome components, which influence yield, quality, safety and sustainable production. Ultimately, producers in the future would be able to manage seeds, biologicals, nutrients, soil, water, microbial communities and other phytobiome components with tools that allow them to sow seed and apply inputs in just the right places, at just the right amount.

Specifically, a vision for phytobiomes is that by 2050, all farmers will have “the ability to use predictive and prescriptive analytics based on geophysical and biological conditions for determining the best combination of crops, management practices, and inputs for a specific field in a given year.”

exampleThe Phytobiomes Roadmap The Phytobiomes Roadmap offers a new vision for agriculture in which sustainable crop productivity is achieved through a systems-level understanding of diverse interacting components.

About the Noble Experts

Both Kelly Craven, Ph.D., and Carolyn Young, Ph.D., helped write the Phytobiomes Roadmap during a session held at Noble Research Institute, and Young is editor-in-chief of Phytobiomes Journal. Craven researches how to use plant microbiomes to more effectively provide nutrients to plants for more crop productivity with fewer agronomic inputs, and Young’s research includes working with beneficial microbes that can add value to grasses like tall fescue and mitigating microbes that cause pecan scab.

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