May 2024

Innovative live-imaging system unveils dynamic plant-fungal interactions

By providing a reliable tool for continuous, undisturbed observation of plant-fungal interactions over time, a new live-imaging system developed by Crop Science Centre scientists is expected to facilitate new discoveries about the complex dynamics of symbiotic interactions between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. The symbiotic nutritional alliance between AM fungi and most plant species occurs on all continents, in all soils, and in nearly all plant species. It plays vital roles in nutrient cycling, carbon storage, soil stability, and plant health. Therefore, gaining greater insights into this crucial symbiotic relationship is particularly important.

During AM symbiosis, the fungi extend a network of hyphae into the soil while simultaneously colonising plant roots. They grow between and within plant root cells, where they form ‘tree-like’ nutrient exchange structures. Within these arbuscules, the AM fungi receive lipids and sugars from their plant host and reciprocate with water and mineral nutrients gathered from beyond the reach of the plant’s own roots. The developmental stages of this symbiotic interaction vary greatly within each root and across wider soil areas. These stages also change over time, with arbuscules developing and collapsing within days.

Microscopy has been fundamental in researching the dynamics of plant-fungal AM symbiosis. Since compound light microscopy helped discover AM fungi at the turn of the 19th century, various microscopy techniques have revealed the spatial aspects of this symbiosis. However, studying changes in relationship dynamics over time has remained challenging, as both the plant and fungi need to stay alive and undisturbed for weeks.

Published in the Journal of Microscopy and led by Jen McGaley alongside Professor Uta Paszkowski from the Cereal Symbiosis team at the Crop Science Centre, and Ben Schnieder from Stockholm University, this research outlines a new solution named AMSlide. It is a non-invasive, high-resolution, live-imaging system optimised specifically for AM symbiosis research. The AMSlide enables researchers to capture detailed confocal microscopy images from whole colonisation zones down to subcellular structures. This capability spans timeframes from minutes to weeks, offering unprecedented insights into the temporal dynamics of AM symbiosis.

Lead author, Jen McGaley, said, “I wanted to develop a system that not only enabled non-destructive imaging of AM symbiosis, but was compatible with a wide range of microscope set-ups, imaging techniques and plant and fungal species. I hope this versatility will lead to application of the AMSlide in diverse research scenarios, filling the temporal gaps in our understanding of AM symbiosis and other underground processes.”

This innovation holds promise not only for ecological studies but also for agricultural applications, where understanding the nuances of plant-fungal relationships can lead to improved crop management and sustainability practices.

Follow this link to view the full research article:

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