Robert McGee

Postdoctoral fellow candidate

Supervisor: Etienne Yergeau
Start: 2020-05-15
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Improving the Growth of Greenhouse-Grown Commercial Tomato Varieties by Engineering the Soil Microbiome
Global food production is facing several challenges from fresh water scarcity to more frequent extreme weather events brought on by climate change, which are negatively impacting global crop yields. Introducing plant growth-promoting (PGP) microbes to the microbiome of agricultural crops has been proposed as a potential solution. Using this approach, plant growth has been increased in various crop species grown under laboratory conditions. However, under agricultural conditions there are far fewer success stories. The main objective of this project is to identify PGP microbes that can increase growth in a commercial tomato variety grown under commercial greenhouse conditions. Of 42 putative PGP strains and five putative PGP synthetic communities (SynComs), six strains and three SynComs were identified, predominately from the Bacillaceae family that significantly increased biomass in five-week-old tomato seedlings grown in growth chambers. Preliminary data shows that under commercial greenhouse conditions, one of these strains and one SynCom significantly increased biomass in eight week-old tomatoes. Using the draft genomes of these microbes, strain-specific primers have been designed that will be used to track their presence and abundance over time in the greenhouse and to correlate this with their PGP effects on tomatoes. The mechanisms of action of these microbes are also currently being investigated through screening for PGP microbial traits as well identifying PGP genes in their genomes. Our industrial partner, Agro-100 Inc., a Canadian fertilizer supplier, plans to develop these microbes into commercial products, which will help farmers improve crop growth in the face of a changing climate.


Microbiome, microbial engineering, Plant growth-promoting microbes, agriculture, Tomato, botany


1- Cell wall–localized BETA-XYLOSIDASE4 contributes to immunity of Arabidopsis against Botrytis cinerea
Guzha, Athanas, Robert McGee, Patricia Scholz, Denise Hartken, Daniel Lüdke, Kornelia Bauer, Marion Wenig, Krzysztof Zienkiewicz, Cornelia Herrfurth, Ivo Feussner, A Corina Vlot, Marcel Wiermer, George Haughn, Till Ischebeck
2022 Plant Physiology

2- Seed Mucilage: Biological Functions and Potential Applications in Biotechnology
Tsai, Allen Yi-Lun, Robert McGee, Gillian H Dean, George W Haughn, Shinichiro Sawa
2021 Plant and Cell Physiology

3- Pectin Modification in Seed Coat Mucilage by In Vivo Expression of Rhamnogalacturonan-I- and Homogalacturonan-Degrading Enzymes
McGee, Robert, Gillian H Dean, Di Wu, Yuelin Zhang, Shawn D Mansfield, George W Haughn
2021 Plant and Cell Physiology

4- Assessing the utility of seed coat-specific promoters to engineer cell wall polysaccharide composition of mucilage
McGee, Robert, Gillian H. Dean, Shawn D. Mansfield, George W. Haughn
2019 Plant Molecular Biology

5- Identification of a seed coat-specific promoter fragment from the Arabidopsis MUCILAGE-MODIFIED4 gene
Dean, Gillian H., Zhaoqing Jin, Lin Shi, Elahe Esfandiari, Robert McGee, Kylie Nabata, Tiffany Lee, Ljerka Kunst, Tamara L. Western, George W. Haughn
2017 Plant Molecular Biology