Microbes helping bring back nearly extinct Hawaiian plant

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In Hawaii, a critically endangered Hawaiian plant has a chance for survival in the wild thanks to microbe research conducted at The Amend Laboratory in the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Botany Department and the O’ahu Army Natural Resources Program. Researchers found that by transplanting wild microbes from healthy related plants, they increased the health and likeliness of survival in the wild for the nearly extinct Hawaiian plant, Phyllostegia kaalaensis.

Since 2002, the plant has only survived in greenhouses with heavy fungicide treatments which killed both the bad and good microbes. By spraying microbes from related healthy plants onto the nearly extinct plants and subjecting them to the deadly powdery mildew fungus, they found those sprayed with the microbes fared much better and were resistant to the disease. Those that didn’t get the probiotic type spray died. They used DNA barcode sequencing to find out which microbes were in the plant before, during and after, to find out that the beneficial fungus most likely to be the protector was the yeast Pseudozyma aphidis. The plants that survived with the beneficial microbe spray were planted in the wild and are surviving, giving hope for the revival of this and other nearly extinct plants.