Professor Maria Harrison has received part of a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Energy to support the development of biosensors to track and measure the movement of phosphate from soil fungi into plant cells in real time.
The biosensor system will provide insights into phosphate concentrations within root cells and will help reveal how plants use their symbiotic relationships with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi to acquire more phosphate from the surrounding soil. By making this process more efficient, growers may produce bioenergy and food crops in a more environmentally sustainable manner.
"I am very excited about the project because the sensors will allow us to measure phosphate in colonized root cells and potentially within the subcellular compartments of roots cells," said Harrison, who is the William H. Crocker Professor at BTI.
The project is a collaboration with Wayne Versaw, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University in College Station. Versaw was formerly a postdoctoral researcher in Harrison's laboratory at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and is the principal investigator on the grant.
The grant comes from DOE's New Bioimaging Technologies for Plant and Microbial Systems program, which aims to improve understanding of cellular metabolism to support the development of plant biomass-based biofuel production.
The biosensor system will have broad uses beyond biofuels, as almost all economically important crops make use of AM fungi. Through the use of standard imaging and analysis protocols, the biosensor technology will be widely available to plant scientists.