Overlooked: The role of bacterial viruses in plant health

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Joana Falcao Salles, Professor of Microbial Community Ecology at the University of Groningen, believes is calling for more research into the role of bacteriophages in plant health.
In marine environments and in our own gut, bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) are important in regulating the microbiome. Yet, their effect on bacteria living around the roots of plants has hardly been studied, according to Joana, lead author of a review paper entitled Trends in Microbiology.

Joana wants to test the effect of viruses on the potato microbiome, using a large number of different potato breeds.

"Microbes were once considered to be unimportant until microbiome technologies showed otherwise," she said. "Sequencing viruses has become much easier now and I cannot imagine that they are not important. Bacteriophages are the forgotten sibling and, in my opinion, we underestimate their importance."

Joana wrote the review article with former University of Groningen Ph.D. student Akbar Adjie Pratama (now working as a postdoc at Ohio State University, US), MSc student Jurre Terpstra (who's bachelor thesis inspired the review) and visiting scientist Andre Luiz Martinez de Oliveria from Universidade Estadual de Londrina, Brazil. In it, she describes the role of bacterial viruses in modifying the microbial community in seawater and in the gut. "If viruses are important in these systems, why would they not be important in the rhizosphere?" she asks. Nevertheless, this was the conclusion of a paper published not too long ago. "The scientists had counted viral particles in the soil and found very few of them. However, bacteriophages can even have effects when they are living inside cells," Salles explains.

Overlooked

Technical problems may also have affected studies into soil viruses, she adds: "We have the technology to identify viruses in ocean water and in our gut. Finding them in soil is quite a challenge." It is relatively simple to filter virus particles from water but isolating them from a slurry is far more complicated. Salles suspects that this has led to bacteriophages being overlooked. "There are just a handful of institutes where soil phages are being studied."

Her own institute, the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, has only recently appointed a virologist. Salles and her team will now start to look for evidence of the importance of bacteriophages.

For further details, visit https://phys.org/news/2020-06-overlooked-role-bacterial-viruses-health.html