Slovenian researchers publish major paper on smart plant growth management

Ljubljana, 24 September - Researchers from the National Institute of Biology, working with colleagues from the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS) and international experts, have started to pave the way for the smart use of microorganisms in agriculture, having completed a study entitled Menage a Trois: Unravelling the Mechanisms Regulating Plant-Microbe-Arthropod Interactions.

Kristina Gruden and Marko Petek from the national institute, Vid Pečan from IJS and others have published a paper on their research in the journal Trends in Biotechnology (

The researches have found that plant-microbe-arthropod interactions have a significant impact on plant fitness and that recent studies shed light on how plants regulate responses in such complex interactions.

While certain combinations of microorganisms can already be used as fertiliser or for plant protection, they do not always get the job done and have not become widely used.

"Plant reactions can be very complex, involving several hundred molecules. To understand them correctly we need a comprehensive, systemic bioecological approach," Gruden was quoted in a press release by the National Institute Of Biology.

According to Petek, such approaches have become possible only "with the development of high-performance methods in biology and in combination with information and mathematical sciences".

Most lab research so far has focused on the interaction of plants with only one organism, but now the researchers have shown that such research does not allow predictions on how a plant will react in a more complex ecosystem.

"We focused in particular on the triple interaction involving the plant, a microbe and an insect. Most mechanisms are triggered in triple interactions too, but this often differs from simpler interactions between two organisms in terms of the intensity and speed of the response," Kristina Gruden explained.

"The order in which the reaction proceeds is also very important, since a useful microorganism for instance needs to establish interaction with the plant at least a few hours before the pest," she added.

It is noted in the paper that securing a next generation of farming practices that are environment-friendly while brining high-quality and sufficient yields is one of the key challenges for humanity at present.

According to FAO data, the global production of food will need to increase by 70% by 2050 due to the rise in population figures.