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Allison Mertin

PhD Candidate, ReCER

Research Interests

  • Characterising the seed microbiome of Australian native plants,
  • Seed microbiomes in restoration and ex situ conservation,
  • Microbial diversity in natural ecosystems,
  • Microbe-host and microbe-microbe interactions and chemotaxis.

Current Projects

Fungal endophytes of Banksia serrata and B. ericifolia seed

Current knowledge on the function and diversity of seed fungal endophytes has been gained through studies in agricultural systems whilst knowledge from natural systems is lacking. We used two congeneric co-occurring species from the genus Banksia to investigate the abundance and diversity of seed fungal endophyte communities present in natural ecosystem hosts. Based on results from isolation and culturing, as well as DNA sequence analysis of multiple loci, we found that Banksia seed house a diverse range of fungal endophyte species, belonging to multiple trophic modes.

Seed microbiomes from native grasses in restored and natural ecosystems

Although the microbial community is an important attribute of ecosystems and is associated with increasing ecosystem function and productivity, it is often overlooked when restoring ecosystems and thus restoration is incomplete. Here we are using Next Generation Sequencing and phenotyping experiments to explore the taxonomic and functional diversity of the seed microbiome of Themeda triandra, Microlaena stipoides and Melaleuca quinquenervia form restored and natural sites along the southeastern coast of NSW and with the ACT. This research will provide insight into the hidden microbial diversity within our native seeds and their potential role in ecosystem function and plant survival.

Using microfluidics to explore the chemotactic responses of seed endophytes for native Australian grasses Themeda triandra and Microlaena stipoides

Microbial interactions occurring on and around a germinating seed occur in a small zone (2-12 mm wide) termed the spermosphere, which plays an important role in how a plant acquires its initial microbiome. Studying interactions within the spermosphere are especially challenging due to the short timespan over which the interactions occur (generally no longer than 72 hours) and the rapid changes in nutrient type and concentration. Microfluidics is an approach increasingly used to investigate interactions between a host and its microbiome at the micro-scale. We will use microfluidics to explore the role that seed exudates play in eliciting chemotactic behavior of seed microbes of native Australian plants. This research will provide insights into how native plants acquire their microbiomes and aid in conservation of these aspects within our ecosystems.