Evolutionary EcologyHarnessing microbiomes for disease resistance

In progress


How to harness microbiomes for disease resistance in plants

Project Summary

Plants are associated with numerous microorganisms in the wild. Some of these microorganisms are beneficial but others, such as pathogens, can be harmful to plants. Thus, maintaining a healthy microbiome is key to plant health. For wild apples (crabapples, Malus), we have observed that some crabapple cultivars/species are more disease resistant than others at the National Crabapple Evaluation Project (NCEP) plot at the Holden Arboretum. Our previous work published on the Malus Bulletin with Holden students Jessica LaBella and Eve Kaufman has identified diverse fungi associated with crabapple leaves.

The current line of research aims to address the following questions: (1) What governs leaf microbiome assembly in crabapples? (2) What are the functions of leaf microbiomes? (3) Can leaf microbiomes from resistant cultivars/species be used to benefit the susceptible cultivars/species for disease resistance? This project leverages the rich crabapple collections growing in the NCEP plot that has been established since the 1980s. Within the NECP plot at Holden, there are replicated plantings of three trees per cultivar/species with a total of 40 different crabapple cultivars/species in a completely randomized design. This project involves plant ecophysiological trait measurements, microbial culturing and sequencing, microbiome selection and reciprocal inoculation, experimental evolution, and tissue culture.


community assembly, crabapple, disease, NCEP plot, microbiome, physiology


Select Publications

  • Wei N, LaBella J and Kaufman E. 2021. Leaf fungal microbiome in crabapples: A preliminary study at Holden Arboretum, Ohio. Malus: International Ornamental Crabapple Society Bulletin.
  • LaBella J. 2021. Resistant vs. susceptible leaf microbiomes in crabapples. The Garden Club of America, Corliss Knapp Engle Scholarship in Horticulture ($3000).

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