Manipulating Phytobiomes: Challenges and Opportunities

Brief Description: This workshop will focus on key scientific and societal hurdles that will need to be addressed in order to move phytobiome manipulation from theory to application. Activities will include targeted speed talks, a breakout session, and a summary session. We aim to identify and propose potential solutions for 1) scientific challenges associated with developing new and transformative agricultural practices, 2) challenges to implementing new practices within the context of current practices, and 3) challenges associated with effectively communicating these new practices to regulatory entities, growers, and the general public.


Produce a published whitepaper on current and relevant topics in phytobiome manipulation. Specifically, previous perspective papers or reviews have identified key barriers, needs and opportunities with regard to plant-associated microbiome research (i.e. Lebeis et al., New Phytologist, 2012; Farrar et al., Plant Biotechnology Journal, 2014; Mueller and Sachs, Trends in Microbiology, 2015; Kumar et al., Frontiers in Plant Science, 2016; Hawkes and Connor, Phytobiomes Journal, 2017; Busby et al., PLoS Biology, 2017) or have focused on a more overarching vision regarding the need and objectives of phytobiome research (Phytobiomes: A Roadmap for Research and Translations, American Phytopathological Society, 2016). The purpose of this workshop and associated whitepaper is to expand on previous pieces by: a) including a broader discussion of phytobiomes, rather than focusing primarily on bacterial constituents, and b) introducing the practical considerations of phytobiome management from a broader perspective that will include input from growers, extension professionals, and other stakeholders.     


1:45-2:00 pm             Introduction and summary of phytobiome manipulation approaches
2:00-3:00 pm             Short talks on assigned topics (3-5 min each)
3:00-3:15 pm             Questions for speakers
3:15-3:30 pm             Coffee break
3:30-4:30 pm             Breakout session
4:30-5:15 pm             Integration from breakout session
5:15-5:30 pm             Summary and discussion of next steps

*subject to change, as needed.

Tentative Short Talk Topics

1. Can microbiomes be altered at any taxonomic level? 
2. Differences in working with consortia vs. individual organisms 
3. Shaping phytobiome structure with different plant genotypes 
4. Storage and reproduction of whole microbiomes 
5. Reshaping microbiomes with microbial warfare 
6. Restructuring plant-associated arthropod composition 
7. Selecting for plants that invest more in biotic interactions 
8. Altering belowground food webs 
9. Hurdles to the adoption of new production practices 
10. What will and won’t work in modern production systems 
11. Communicating phytobiome management to stakeholders and consumers 

Tentative Breakout Session Topics

1) Scientific challenges
     a. Group inoculants vs.synthetic communities vs. manipulation of indigenous organisms
     b. What can we control, what can't we control, what do we NEED to control
     c. Methods or routes of inoculation, introduction or manipulation
 2) Implementation challenges
     a. At what points is it feasible and critical to adjust agricultural practices (e.g. pre- 
         or post-planting, pre- or post-harvest, storage and transport, all of the above)?
     b. Of current practices, what will be easy to modify to accommodate manipulation 
         and what will be difficult or impossible (at this point) to modify? 
     c. What is the most effective and efficient way to train growers in phytobiome management 
 3) Communication challenges
     a. How to communicate benefits and potential drawbacks
     b. How to reach the lay audience
     c. How to honestly communicate risk

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