December 17, 2021

Jake Nash (Duke University)

Investigating a microbial rescue for trees under severe drought stress

Fall 2021 Graduate Student Award in Pathogenic and Commensal Organisms


Most plants contain a vast community of unseen fungi that grow from inside their roots into the surrounding soil. Many of these fungi increase the health of the plant and can be particularly important during periods of drought stress. Aspen trees are distributed throughout regions of the western United States that will be exposed to increasingly intense droughts in the coming years. This research will test whether whole communities of fungi that have previously been through stressful drought events in natural aspen stands can then pass on the tolerance for future drought events to their aspen tree hosts. Plants can release certain chemical compounds to recruit fungi from the soil into their roots to assist them in surviving stressful drought episodes. This research will characterize how aspen trees use these chemicals to shape the communities of fungi in their roots during drought, and what the importance of these fungi are for plant drought tolerance.