The secret of a winning strategy: common mechanisms in different symbioses

  • FCT Project
  • National Research Project
  • 2014 to 2017

Symbiosis with fungi and microbes is a common strategy used by plants in nature to improve water acquisition and use, optimize mineral nutrition and face a wide range of biotic/abiotic stresses. Although widely investigated, functioning and ecological role of symbiosis are still not completely understood.
In both lichens and mycorrhiza associations, a fungal component provides multiple benefits to a photosynthetic partner in exchange for organic carbon. However, following traditional reductionistic hypothesis-driven approaches, these symbioses are usually considered and studied separately.
This project is an invitation to use an innovative approach not focusing on the study of a particular system or association, but on a strategy used by nature - the symbiotic lifestyle - to overcome stress.
In this view, we consider ‘lichens’ and ‘mycorrhiza’ as a unified model of symbiosis and investigate not their peculiarities, but the common points and similarities between them to understand how interplay among distinct genomes may offer better solutions to cope with stress.
How do stress conditions influence the initial stages of the symbioses? How do the partners communicate between them? How do environmental stress gradients affect the symbiotic associations? What are the molecular tolerance mechanisms?
In times of fast global changes, this novel understanding of the genotype-phenotype relationship has great potential to translate into knowledge-based approaches in biotechnology, agriculture and natural resource management. 

Funding Institution:

Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation.