CULLEN COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING

University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

News

Bacteria-fungi interaction may lead to improvements in crop production, sustainable energy

By: 

Rashda Khan
Debora Rodrigues,associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the UH Cullen College, is part of an international team studying bacteria-fungi interaction.
Debora Rodrigues,associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the UH Cullen College, is part of an international team studying bacteria-fungi interaction.
The DOE grant is funding the team's research into bacteria-fungi interaction in soil and how it impacts the surrounding environment.
The DOE grant is funding the team's research into bacteria-fungi interaction in soil and how it impacts the surrounding environment.

UH researcher receives DOE grant to study fundamental interactions

While microorganism like bacteria and fungi have co-existed for eons, there is still much to discover about them, their interactions and the benefits they offer the world.

“I’m an environmental scientist, so I want to tap existing natural resources, understand them and see how they can benefit us even more,” said Debora Rodrigues, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the UH Cullen College. “Such as the microbes that a lot of people don’t actually appreciate — 99 percent of microbes are doing good things for us and we don’t even know about them.”

Now, thanks to a research project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Rodrigues will have the opportunity to study bacterial-fungal fundamental interactions in soil.

Bacteria and fungi are integral to a healthy ecosystem. They can impact plant health, development and productivity, breakdown of contaminants, soil health, and sustainable agriculture and bioenergy production.

Rodrigues is part of an international team of researchers, including Patrick Chain and other researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory; Jamey Young of Vanderbilt University; and Pilar Junier of the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.

“Science and engineering people tend to look at microorganisms separately and don’t actually focus on their interactions,” Rodrigues said. “We’re looking at a more cohesive picture because it’s completely interconnected.”

The three-year grant is renewable and total funding for the project could add up to $7.5 million. Rodrigues, who will be conducting related experiments in her laboratory, received $508,286 of the funding.

Initially the team will be studying recently discovered bacteria that live inside fungal hosts as well as those that live separately, but in close association with each other.

She hopes to ultimately link these bacteria-fungi communities to plants and study those relationships.

“We want to understand how these interactions work and then how we can modify these functions to improve crop production and sustainable bioenergy production for our country,” Rodrigues said.

“This is a very novel field,” she added. “Any findings that we get will be very rewarding.”

Faculty: 

Department: 

Tag: 

Related News Stories

Building the UH Engineering Legacy at Katy: From Foundation to New Heights

Phaneendra "Phani" Kondapi brings a unique and invaluable skillset to his roles as founding director of the UH engineering programs at Katy and director of the UH subsea engineering program.

Q & A With Founding Director Phaneendra Kondapi

 

Plans for the Cullen College of Engineering to expand into the Katy area grow more concrete each day as the construction of the University of Houston Katy Campus progresses. The 84,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art building will open its doors to hundreds of UH engineering students in fall 2019.

Beyond Archaeology: NCALM Pursues New Technology, New Projects

Researchers with the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping used the center's lidar-equipped plane to map the permafrost in Antarctica.

Lidar Mapping Has Also Yielded Other Earth Science Discoveries

 

The National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping is best-known for its headline-grabbing work in archeology – the 2016 discovery of previously unknown ruins of a complex Maya settlement in the Guatemalan jungles, undocumented settlements from an ancient civilization in Honduras uncovered in 2012, and detailed mapping of more than a dozen other settlements in Mexico and Central America.