delware environmental institute

Fighting microbes with microbes: Bais's research featured in The Scientist

Like humans, with their complement of microbes that aid in everything from immune responses to nutrition, plants rely on a vast array of bacteria and fungi for health and defense. Over the last decade, research has revealed many new functional aspects of the crosstalk between human-associated microbes and human cells, but plant biologists are only beginning to scratch the surface of the often surprising ways that soil microbiota impact plants, from underground fungus-wired alarm systems to soil bacteria that can trigger defensive plant behavior or even act as a sort of vaccine. But despite these benefits, microbes are still primarily thought of as harbingers of disease.

“The idea is that we can reduce pesticide and fungicide use by utilizing the microbiome,” says Harsh Bais, a plant biologist at the University of Delaware in Newark. “But we need to know more about the mechanisms of action; relationships between microbes and plants are very complex.”