FEMS Journals ECR Oral Presentation Prize: MacLean Kohlmeier

Congratulations to MacLean Kohlmeier, Postdoctoral Fellow, Murdoch University (Australia) for winning a best ECR Oral Presentation Prize at the Annual National Meeting of the Australian Society for Microbiology (ASM2023). This conference took place at the Perth Convention Centre (Australia) on 3 – 6 July 2023.

This award is sponsored by the FEMS journals and as well as receiving a cash prize, we interviewed MacLean to find out more about his prize winning research:

What has been your route through microbiology thus far?

I completed my PhD at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where I studied the metabolism of root nodule bacteria and its impact on legume symbiosis. Afterwards I was fortunate to begin working in the Legume Rhizobium Sciences group at Murdoch University in Western Australia where I continue to research symbiotic bacteria.”

How was the experience of ASM2023?

ASM2023 was a wonderful experience, there was a lot of quality research to take in and friendly people to speak with. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to engage with other local researchers that I don’t often get the chance to speak with.”

Could you provide a brief and simple overview of the topic your oral presentation covers?

Inoculation of agricultural legumes with nitrogen-fixing symbiotic bacteria is common in Australia as a means of boosting soil N levels and reducing the use of synthetic fertilisers. Even though indigenous soil bacteria appear incompatible with these introduced agricultural legumes and their commercial inoculant strains, it is becoming increasingly clear that the diversity of symbiotic bacteria recovered following inoculation is much higher than would be expected from the inoculant alone. This increase in diversity is likely due to the transfer of symbiotic genes from inoculant rhizobia to indigenous soil bacteria, creating novel symbionts that are distinct from the original inoculant. These novel symbionts may be less effective at fixing nitrogen, but able to compete with the inoculant for symbiosis with their legume host, which therefore reduces the benefits legume inoculation can provide. However, we lack the fundamental genomic data necessary to study these gene transfer events and determine their potential impact on legume nitrogen fixation. Therefore, we conducted complete genome sequencing on the commercial inoculants to precisely determine the suite of symbiosis genes present in each strain and develop an appropriate benchmark to measure the impact of their transfer in the field.”

What encouraged you to perform research in this area of microbiology?

I find the interaction between bacteria and host organisms fascinating, it seems the more that we uncover, the more complex the relationship becomes. This area is particularly interesting given that these commercial inoculants are a valuable resource for Australian agriculture and this project is an important step in maintaining their efficacy.”

What do you see as the next steps in this area of research?

Using these genome sequences for applied purposes such as development of technologies to guide inoculation practises or easily identify strains within root nodules.”

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