CORE TEAM

STÉPHANE COMPANT

Scientist
AIT Austrian Institute of Technology

Dr. Stéphane Compant is Scientist working on plant-microbe interactions at the AIT. He received his PhD degree from the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne and his habilitation from the University of Bordeaux in France. Stéphane Compant was Associate Professor of Microbiology at the National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse in France before to be project leader at AIT. He is one of the leading research experts on microbial ecology of endophytic bacteria interacting with plants, on microscopy of plant-microbe interactions in general, and biocontrol of plant diseases using various biocontrol agents from different sources.

Microscopy of plant-microbe interactions.
Microorganisms living on and inside plants can be detected by various microscopy methods enabling to investigate their behaviour, their niches, and how they colonize their hosts. Different techniques are applied depending on whether single strains, full or synthetic microbiomes are studied. This talk will provide an introduction in the application of microscopy techniques to visualize adequately the microorganisms in their natural environment. Using these tools allows us to track down the microorganisms and to determine how they interact with the plants and how they are associated with various plant organs under different plant growth and environmental conditions.

URSULA SAUER

Scientist
AIT Austrian Institute of Technology

Dr. Ursula Sauer received her Master in Biology at the University of Vienna and her PhD from the Vienna University of Technology. She is expert for the characterization of technical and biological surfaces and interfaces by means of fluorescence microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and atomic force microscopy (AFM). A special focus of her work is on characterization of the phyllosphere and implications for plant ecology. Further, she is working on formulations for biocontrol agents as well as on development of environmentally sustainable formulations of plant growth promoting bacteria (PGPB).

AFM and SEM: close-ups of the phyllosphere
Plant cuticles are lipophilic membranes with protective function consisting of a polymer matrix covered with epicuticular waxes. Both, topography and chemistry control microhabitat quality in the phyllosphere and hence the abundance as well as the biodiversity of colonizing microbes. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) are excellent tools to study this habitat at the microscale.

BIRGIT MITTER

Scientist
AIT Austrian Institute of Technology

Dr. Birgit Mitter is microbiologist and molecular biologist with strong experience in the field of beneficial plant-microbe interactions, in particular bacterial endophytes. She has studied endophytes in a variety of plants including plants of agricultural importance, such as potato, rice and maize but also in wild flowers and tropical trees. B. Mitter applies (meta-)genomic approaches to elucidate community setup and dynamics as well as functional roles of (uncultivated) endophytes. She uses modern transcriptomics for studying the mechanisms of plant-microbe communication. Currently. B. Mitter focuses on approaches for modulating and managing the plant microbiome for improved plant productivity and health.

How microscopy adds to our understanding of plant microbe interactions
Like humans, plants are colonized by complex microbial communities and the role of plant colonizing microorganisms in plant development and health is well acknowledged. Successful plant colonization by microorganisms is the basic requirement for plant-microbe interaction. Thus, studies on the routes and niches of plant colonization have always been a central aspect in the research of plant-microbe interaction. An overview on recent developments and findings on plant-microbe interaction is presented and challenges, limitations and outlook are discussed.

MARKUS GORFER

Scientist
AIT Austrian Institute of Technology

Dr. Markus Gorfer has put his research focus on functional ecology and the fungal contribution to environmental processes like heavy metal mobilization/immobilization, nutrient cycling and general ecosystem services. Modern techniques like qPCR, marker gene surveys, massive parallel sequencing and phylogenetic separation of environmental rRNA in conjunction with stable isotope probing are applied to gain insight into processes and players. As many environmentally important and dominant fungi can be cultivated, Dr. Gorfer has been developing molecular genetic tools to further research with hitherto often neglected organisms.

Transformation of fungi
Most fungi are amenable to genetic transformation, and the plant pathogenic bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens is widely used as donor for DNA-transfer into fungal cells. By this method, markers like fluorescent protein encoding genes can be introduced into host cells to allow microscopic visualization of tagged strains. Fungi expressing fluorescent proteins can be used for advanced colonization and interaction studies in an otherwise natural environment like plants that are normally colonized by a wide variety of prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms. Coinocculations with several strains tagged with different colours are possible for advanced microbial interaction studies.

LEVI A. GHEBER

Scientist
Department of Biotechnology Engineering
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Dr. Gheber holds a Ph.D. in Physics of condensed matter (1995), followed by a 4 years postdoctoral training in biology in the Johns Hopkins University. He has joined the Department for Biotechnology Engineering at the Ben-Gurion University in 1999 and currently he serves as the Chairman of the Department. His lab conducts research on Nanobiotechnology and Biophysics. Dr. Gheber has published numerous articles in leading peer-reviewed journals, as well as several book chapters. He has served as an editorial board member for Biophysical Journal and is currently an editorial board member of Scientific Reports.

Atomic Force Microscopy for Biologists
The Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) was introduced in 1986 and has rapidly become an almost routine instrument in research labs. It owes its popularity to the fact that it can work on biological samples (unlike its “big brother”, the STM that was introduced 4 years earlier, and requires a conductive sample). The AFM enabled for the first time high resolution images on live biological specimens. We will discuss the components and modes of operation of AFM and will explain how the interactions between the AFM and the sample can create artifacts and how these can be avoided.

Image Analysis
The introduction of digital imaging has revolutionized the scientific world as much as it has, years later, revolutionized photography.
We will discuss properties of digital images and the files that hold them. We will get acquainted with digital image handling software and learn how to perform basic analysis and simple processing of digital images. These basic steps should allow the curious listener to launch on an autodidactic journey into more advanced topics.

MILICA PASTAR

Technician
AIT Austrian Institute of Technology

Mag. Milica Pastar holds a Master in Biology from the University of Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a focus on Microbiology and Molecular Biology. She has long working experience in the microbiology laboratory of the Competence Centre for Bioresources at AIT. Her expertise ranges from daily routine microbiology methods to complex analysis of plant – microbe interactions, including fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH).