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Identification of root-specific terpenoids, mediators in the plant-microbe interaction in the rhizosphere

EMSL Project ID


The sorghum root microbiome undergoes profound changes during drought, so does its expression of terpene metabolism. Using an artificial root system (rhizotron) with sorghum grown in field soil, it was found that the rhizosphere responds specifically to augmented commercially available terpenoids with thousands of bacterial and fungal species identified, and tens of individual species isolated (personal communication). Data received in private communication details the sorghum root terpene metabolism on molecular level, i.e., the set of root-expressed terpene synthases and relevant cytochromes P450 were identified. These were found to catalyze terpene scaffold formation and further functionalization. The proposed exploratory research partnership aims at connecting these areas, establishing biological relevance and tools for predicting and shaping the microbiome to increase plant resilience. The primary aim of this proposal is purification and structural identification of root specific metabolites of the terpene class. The secondary aim is to profile root specialized terpenes in response to drought and to assembled artificial microbiome communities. Vision: This work sets the stage for new Synthetic Biology technologies including (i) activity-based probe development for enrichment, isolation and characterization of terpene-responsive microbes and terpene proteins (aim 3), (ii) designing and engineering sorghum for root exudation of microbe-active terpenoids and (iii) engineering of sorghum root-related microbial isolates, e.g., for microbial communication, biosensors and symbionts for engineered plants and suppression of phytopathogenic microbes. The fourth aim is to determine the performance, phenotyping of sorghum, under controlled microbiome conditions in response to drought. If successful, this project will provide critical opportunities to (i) elucidate regulatory networks of belowground plant-microbe communication, (ii) design novel strategies to fine-tune the beneficial microbiome through terpene excretion, and (iii) enable Synthetic Biology approaches of the plant microbiome to boost adaptive plant responses.

Project Details

Project type
Exploratory Research
Start Date
End Date


Principal Investigator

Bjoern Hamberger
Michigan State University

Team Members

Trine Andersen
Michigan State University