Owen Thornton

Postgraduate Researcher

The greatest diversity of microorganisms interacting with any plant occurs at the interface between its roots and the surrounding soil environment known as the rhizosphere.

The rhizosphere microbiota has a huge impact on the overall health and growth of a plant, and successful colonisation of this microhabitat represents a crucial first step not just for pathogenesis but also for myriad plant-growth-promoting organisms.

While the plant originates from seed, the microorganisms in the rhizosphere community assemble from the immensely diverse microbiome of the surrounding bulk soil. The formation of these communities is dependent upon the interaction of the growing plant and its environment, with the plant proposed to be able to control this assembly principally via the specific profile of root exudates.

As such, the assembly of rhizosphere communities is increasingly considered to be influenced by the precise genetic identity of the host plant, indicating that it may be possible to exploit genetic variation in host plant species in such a way that beneficial associations with rhizosphere microorganisms are promoted.

Owen’s work aims to elucidate the genetic determinants of successful rhizosphere colonisation by plant-growth-promoting strains of Pseudomonas spp. within the host’s genome, such that they can be exploited for the development of new strategies to promote plant growth and health in agriculture.