I’m Ryan, my PhD is entitled “Exploring temperature regulation of crop-rhizosphere ecology”. I am excited to be undertaking this project at Queen’s University Belfast within the School of Biological Sciences. I completed my undergraduate in Microbiology at Queen’s in May 2020 and am entering my postgraduate research position straight from my undergraduate program after achieving a first class honours and, the John Quinn medal. I was keen to gain a research position after my “sandwich” placement year. Spending a year working closely with research staff was extremely productive and I greatly enjoyed the research experience; contributing to two publications during the year.

Since then the ecological hot spot that is the rhizosphere has been of great interest to me. Defined as the area of soil in contact with and influenced by plant roots this biologically diverse and economically important area is manipulated by plants via the release of compounds called plant root exudates (RRE). PRE is dynamic and continuously changing throughout a plants development, yet it has been hijacked by numerous parasitic species which contribute to annual crop losses valued in the billions of dollars.

Within my honours project I conducted research highly relevant to my areas of interest. I studied the impact of unique exudate collected at different temperatures on two model soil microbes; one pathogen, Agrobacterium tumefaciens and one plant growth promoter, Bacillus subtilis. The unique behavioural responses shown by the microbes directly implicated temperature as a variable affecting PRE composition. During my PhD I plan to work more closely with B. subtilis, exploring how PRE affects the formation of complex root protecting biofilms (1).

1. Soil microbe Bacillus subtilis displaying its complex morphological structure

My research will focus on a specific gene family, the ABC transporters, as previous studies have linked these genes to PRE synthesis and release. I will first be exploring the role of specific ABC transporters that show differential expression over a range of temperatures and investigating questions relevant to rhizosphere composition in light of global warming. Creating transformed lines (2), with reduced expression of specific ABC transporters using RNA interference I will tease out the role these genes play in the formulation of PRE and so, their role in shaping the rhizosphere ecosystem!

2. Emergence of a shooting body from callus tissue. This is a key stage in the process of plant transformation.

Links & Info

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8874-0270

Twitter: @RT_Weir

All images are property of Ryan Weir