In this project, the mode of action of two environment-friendly substrate amendments (chitin and
biochar) will be studied on the strawberry-substrate model system. Chitin and biochar are known to
increase crop growth and disease resistance when they are incorporated in soilless growth media,
and are therefore interesting amendments to reduce fertilizer and pesticide application in
horticulture. The mechanisms of biochar and chitin underlying these beneficial effects on plant
growth and health and the relation with the microbiome is so far poorly understood.
A time series experiment will be conducted in which strawberry plants grown in potting soil,
biochar- or chitin-amended potting soil are sampled weekly. Several high-throughput sequencing
techniques (metabarcoding, -genomics, -transcriptomics) will be used to characterize the
rhizosphere microbiome, while potting soil physicochemical variables, plant gene expression and
plant growth data will be collected in parallel on each time point. By studying each component of
microbiome-plant-substrate system and correlating their temporal changes, we will be able to link
the effect of biochar and chitin on the rhizosphere microbiome to plant growth and disease
resistance, and to unravel the underlying mode of action. The expertise of the research group and
partners in substrate biology, microbiology, computational biology and statistical genomics will be
combined to efficiently apply these methods to the specific case study.