Bacteria are the most abundant organisms in soil, and they can have major impacts fon plant health. Pathogenic bacteria can devastate the productivity and quality of crops, whereas other bacterial species directly promote plant development. These "beneficial bacteria" can act in diverse ways, including making soil nutrients more accessible to plants, limiting the spread of pathogens, and helping plants survive extreme weather. Harnessing the functions of these beneficial bacteria has the potential to transform agriculture, and a major challenge of the next century will be to determine how they can be used to help feed the planet.
The Belin lab is a team of microbiologists who study the biology of rhizobia, soil bacteria with the capacity to convert nitrogen gas in the atmosphere into plant-fertilizing ammonia. The rhizobia form intricate symbioses with legumes including soybean, alfalfa, pea, and clover, serving as sustainable alternatives to synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. We use quantitative cell biology approaches to characterize rhizobial molecules that drive productive symbiosis.