Professor presents bacteria benefits

Stacey Darling-Novak, professor of biology, presents her research on the use of microbes to benefit plant life to a small group of staff and students Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. / photo by Sheridan Lambrook
Stacey Darling-Novak, professor of biology, presents her research on the use of microbes to benefit plant life to a small group Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. / photo by Sheridan Lambrook

Jordan Alcasas
Staff Writer

Stacey Darling-Novak, professor of biology, gave a presentation about the benefits bacterial endophytes can provide growing seeds and the process of studying them.

The presentation was titled “The bacterial endophyte journey from seed to seeding: Developmental shifts in the microbiome and potential species interactions.” It took place on April 30 in the Quay Davis Board Room in front of an audience of about 20. 

Through her studies, Darling-Novak found that bacterial endophytes can have a multitude of helping effects for growing seeds and crops. Some of these can include decreased drought and salinity stress that can impact macromolecules and a plant’s productivity. 

“Bacterial endophytes help seeds to get through the vulnerabilities of being a seed,” Darling-Novak said. “They can play a big role in helping them out.”

Another benefit can be to reduce oxidative stress, which will help to increase plant development and increase crop yield. 

Darling-Novak’s studies revolved primarily around the orchid. Orchid seeds could be easily contained in high numbers due to their small size, meaning that they would provide for strong statistics and better visualization of the process of germination. 

Studying these orchid seeds was a tedious process for which Darling-Novak grew them from seeds. She and her researchers would wash them around 20 times and put them into cultures to closely examine the effects that bacterial endophytes could have on the seeds.
When studying the seeds, she wanted to understand the process of the bacteria colonizing the seed. 

“The goal is to understand the mechanisms that mediate the generational colonization such that we can formulate a bacterial recipe that is beneficial and can be used from parent to seed,” Darling-Novak said. 

Darling-Novak found that core microbiota are the group that gets passed between generations of seeds. She drew conclusions that different bacterial endophytes had their numbers peak during colonization stages of development. 

She broke these bacterial endophytes into tiers. 

Tier one was bacterial endophytes that peaked at the first leaf stage, the second stage stayed relatively high at the first leaf stage and a month in, but increased in seedling leaf, and the third had species that peaked after a month. 

Darling-Novak also observed that depending on if bacterial endophytes were motile or not, they could have different bacteria counts, such as in tier one. 

In tier one, two of the most abundant counts are from non-motile bacteria rather than motile ones. 

In tier two, all species with the highest counties are fully motile. In tier three, both non-motile and motile bacteria followed the same pattern of peaking at one month. 

Through her studies on orchid seeds Darling-Novak made a conclusion on the core microbiota that are passed between generations of seeds. 

“While preliminary, it appears that the core microbiota include species of Acinetobacter, Bradyrhizobium elkanii, Kocuria rhizophila, Rayranella soli and Bacillus thermoamylovorans.” 

Darling-Novak concluded the presentation by answering questions from the audience about the purpose of her studies and her findings. 

“That’s why we’re focused on the core,” Darling-Novak said. “It’s because they’re passed generationally. This is what’s happening during germination, it’s colonization.” 

Audience members had varying opinions about the presentation and the methods of study. 

“I think this problem of colonization you can do in the lab, but not in the field,” said Kenneth Marcus, professor of history, who attended. “There’s the process of lab conditions and real life conditions and that discovery is interesting.” 

Other audience members found themselves more interested by the results and details regarding seed germination and bacterial growth. 

“The bacteria being able to help the plants grow and the other aspects that they can observe, I never thought about it that way,” said Xiiaoyan Liu, mathematics professor. “It’s very interesting and beautiful, especially the pictures she took of the bacteria.” 

Jordan Alcasas can be reached at


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