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In the field, plants face a limited availability of vital mineral nutrients. To increase nutrient uptake most land plants form symbioses with root colonizing arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi that efficiently take up mineral nutrients from the soil and transport them into the root. In return they receive up to 20 % of the plants photosynthetically fixed carbon.

Root colonization by arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi involves distinct and genetically separable developmental steps that are largely under plant control. These steps include dramatic plant cell rearrangements that precede differentiation of fungal hyphae into particular shapes inside these plant cells. We are interested in the plant molecular mechanisms required for shaping an arbuscular mycorrhiza. Our major research line investigates molecular interconnections between plant and symbiosis development, including the role of plant hormone signaling pathways. We recently discovered novel plant genes required for arbuscular mycorrhiza development and currently investigate their function by genetic, biochemical and cell biological methods.

Due to the beneficial effect of AM symbioses on plant growth, there is increasing interest in its application in sustainable agriculture to reduce chemical fertilizer input and to enhance plant resilience to abiotic stress. We investigate the effect of AM symbiosis on plant phenotypes and performance with the future aim to elucidate the genetic basis of fungus-mediated increases in plant-performance. In the future, this may enable breeding of mycorrhiza-optimized crops.

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Stages of arbuscular mycorrhiza development. Displayed with permission from Gutjahr and Parniske, 2013, the Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology, Volume 29 © 2013 by Annual Reviews,