SIMBA research continues despite Covid-19

30 Mar 2021

Image 1. Impact of different salt concentrations on growth of potato plants after four months

Many of us are now over-familiar with the disruption Covid-19 has brought to both our work and home lives. The SIMBA project was no exception and while our partners were quick to adapt to the ‘new normal’, we cannot deny that there were many disruptions to our work. With national lockdowns forcing labs to close, our research schedules were turned upside-down. Thankfully however, work has continued and with the easing of some restrictions our researchers are back in the lab. SIMBA partner, Henk Bolhuis has shared details about his research progress so far and the work going on despite Covid.

Improving Salt Tolerance in Potato Plants

Last year, Henk and his team from NWO-I/NIOZ in the Netherlands, conducted experiments to examine how potato plants and their associated soil microbiomes are impacted by the addition of different concentrations of seawater to the soil. They found that changes in soil salinity impacted both crop yield and the soil microbiome to varying degrees. When Covid reared its head, the plans for the next phase of this research were disrupted.

Thanks to an easing of local restrictions, the team are currently allowed back into the lab for two days a week to continue their work. Now that the impact of varying salt concentrations on plant growth is fully understood, Henk’s team will attempt to improve the salt tolerance of the potatoes under these conditions, by adding salt-loving marine bacteria (from salt marsh vegetation).

Typically in the field, excess salt is an environmental stressor. It kills natural microbial communities and negatively impacts plant growth. The hope here is that with the addition of salt-loving bacteria, which are already evolved to support plant growth in salty environments, researchers will create a better-adapted microbiome that improves salt tolerance in plants. This salt-resistant microbiome could then be applied to plants growing in areas exposed to this environmental stress.

This vital research will support the SIMBA aim to identify microbial solutions to improve European agri- and aquaculture. We look forward to hearing more about the work being done by Henk and his team as the research progresses.

As this research forges ahead, so does work in other areas of the SIMBA project. So far this year, we have  had one publication examining growth promoting microbial consortia and have several other publications due to be published very soon. Stay tuned to our website for more details and updates on Henk’s work.

Image 2. Plant and potato harvested after four months of salt exposure during initial experiment

natural salt marsh communities with and without added substrates to induce putative beneficial plant growth promoting species

Image 3. Natural salt marsh communities with and without added substrates to induce putative beneficial plant growth promoting species

Image 4. Potato plants after two weeks of growth during phase two of the experiment. Soil salinity is 1/6th salinity of seawater.