August 29, 2023

USM Professor Earns Grant to Study How Climate Change Affects Dryland Crops

Darkhorse Press

Dr. Dmitri Mavrodi, Associate Professor of cell and molecular biology at The University of Southern Mississippi

By Van Arnold, University of Southern Mississippi

Dr. Dmitri Mavrodi, Associate Professor of cell and molecular biology at The University of Southern Mississippi, has been awarded a $687,799 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to study the effects of climate change on dryland crops.

The three-year grant is part of a recent $12 million investment made by NIFA to advance research in agricultural microbiomes. Nineteen projects were chosen for funding. Microbiome research is critical for improving agricultural productivity, sustainability of agricultural ecosystems, safety of the food supply, carbon sequestration in agricultural systems, and meeting the challenge of feeding a rapidly growing world population.

Mavrodi’s research will include collaboration with scientists from the USDA-ARS Plant Science Research Unit at St. Paul, Minn., and the USDA-ARS Wheat Health, Genetics and Quality Research Unit at Pullman, Wash.

He points out that climate change is a critical global concern for farmers in the 21st Century.

“Dryland cropping systems occupy over 40 percent of the Earth’s land surface and are especially vulnerable to droughts, temperature fluctuations, fertility loss, and erosion associated with climate change,” said Mavrodi. “Drylands are inhabited by half-a-billion people and provide an important source of pasture for livestock, legumes, and cereals.”

Research funded by the award will address the gaps in knowledge by focusing on the agroecosystem of the Inland Pacific Northwest, which provides an excellent model for studying the interdependence of dryland crops and their associated microbiomes.

“This region is experiencing an unprecedented heat wave and drought that resulted in record-low harvests of small grains and hay,” said Mavrodi. “Our research aims to understand how water stress and monoculture shape the interactions between two economically important crops (wheat and alfalfa), microbial communities, and soilborne plant pathogens.”

He added, “The research will combine field and greenhouse experiments with cutting-edge genomics and metabolomics technologies to study how microbiomes of dryland crops differ from microbial communities of plants from well-watered soils and to characterize beneficial microbes that control pathogens and improve drought-tolerance in plants.”

Mavrodi explains that the research will provide lasting benefits that will aid in identifying various factors that affect agricultural plant productivity.

“The expected new knowledge will complement plant breeding efforts by providing a basis for the rational exploitation of beneficial soil microorganisms to improve crop performance, especially as climate change impacts the productivity of agroecosystems worldwide,” he said.

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