National and international microbiology experts, researchers and stakeholders from the agricultural sector gathered on Tuesday, May 23, at Teagasc Johnstown Castle, to discuss the potential of soil and plant microbes.

The event focused on mapping current soil and plant microbiome research developments, as well as how these could translate to impact in the agricultural sector.

It is believed that insights into the functioning micro-organisms living within soil and plants could be harnessed to promote environmental and agronomic sustainability.

At the event, Fiona Brennan, a soil microbiologist in Teagasc spoke of the potential of these micro-organisms.

Research on the soil and plant microbiome will play a central role in efforts to meet global challenges of food security, climate change, antimicrobial resistance and sustainable agriculture.

The Teagasc Technology Foresight Report identified the microbiome as one of five key transformative technology areas that will be crucial for the agri-food industry in the next two decades.

Speaking at the event, Director of Research at Teagasc, Prof. Frank O’Mara said: “There is now the opportunity to advance the study of the soil and plant microbiome, and the animal gut microbiome, in the search for breakthroughs in topics such as feed efficiency, soil nutrient efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions”.

The importance of the soil and plant microbiome in the functioning of agronomic systems, as well as in the health of the environment, cannot be overstated, according to Brennan.

In many respects they represent the engine of a whole host of soil functions.

“By understanding how these organisms function, and how they are affected by environmental, management and soil factors, there is great potential to manage soils in such a way to utilise the benefits these micro-organisms inherently bring to agriculture,” she said.

Also in attendance was Dr. Peter Cotgreave, Chief Executive of the Microbiological Society. He commented that the success and value of the research would depend on scientists from different disciplines working closely, along with research funders, farmers, and policy-makers, to identify the most important priorities in this ‘complex and fascinating area’.