RECC | Entry 1

Entry 1

Field Work in Bull Island

October 15th, 2016

“Who will get to unlock, collect and share the secrets of the microbiome era?”

We are on a mission to discover new and relatively unexplored Endophytic microbes that live in and between the cells of plants. These microbes can strengthen the plant in difficult conditions. So how do they live? What are their benefits? and what potential applications could we use them for?

To look for some answers to these questions we took our first endophyte club trip to collect plant samples from Bull Island.

Located in Dublin Bay, Bull Island consists of salty marsh, sand dunes and battering winds. It seems like a hostile environment for determined and pioneering plants; which would make them perfect hosts for a multitude of beneficial Endophytes.

In the 1800’s Dublin bay had a lot of problems with silting coming from the river liffey. A solution to this was proposed, by building 2 big walls on either side of the bay. This would use Venturi action to raise the water pressure and scour the bay of silt. By the mid 1800’s tidal effects has deepened the entry to the river, and the silts built up to form the island. Hence, it is a relatively recent, and inadvertent, result of human intervention in the bay.

The island now has biodiverse flora and fauna, and, due to industrial development, salt levels and competition for resources, we reasoned it would be an interesting place to find stressed plants that have developed interesting endophytes.

We left the industrial concrete road behind us, our path started to open into windy a tidal walkway. We passed the last of the few houses that bridged the sandy wild coast to the city and approached the jagged sea boulders of the Island wall.

It was at this point that we started to notice seemingly weak and fragile grasses, doc leaves and yellow flowers sprouting between concrete slabs, and clawing their way out of hefty rocks. They must have been growing in a just few cm of hidden soil.

They were our first glimpse of their familial plants further out on the Island. It was there that we were met by an array of of wild grasses, clovers, and flowers all battling it out amongst the dunes in the coastal gusts. We relieved ourselves of our luggage, and Conor rummaged around in his backpack to retrieve his shovel and pots to extract our first specimen.

Our first plant was a single yellow flower that we found on its own in a small stretch of unoccupied grass. Conor Identified it as some sort of yellow daisy although he was not sure which species. Its loneliness gave it apparent strength. When we saw these flowers we were struck at how successfully they had managed to thrive in what looked to be an otherwise hostile place. The quantity of their flower and their brightness made us feel like they had something special, so we took some with us for examination.

Nearby we found some clover plants. They fix nitrogen in the soil, bettering the nutritious quality for all the other plants. Clover is in the legum family, and famously has nitrogen fixing microbes living in their root tissues. Naturally the clover became our Second plant sample. Picked in order to see if we could culture nitrogen-fixers.

Evening Primrose (Oenothera glazioviana) was our third sample. A tall yellow flowered plant. This was mainly due to its sheer height and strong appearance. The roots, the leaves, flower and seeds, should all have different qualities and quantities of endophytes in them” he explained. I mean it makes sense, as the different components have different tasks in the organism's lifecycle.

“Is that barley?” The grassy path beneath our feet merged into sand and I sheltered my eyes from the grains whipped up by the sea’s winds. I noted it as Barley is one of the first agricultural crops currently being researched for the potential of agricultural use of Endophytes. We wanted to see if we could extract some beneficial microbes from the wild barley that was growing in the sand, so we snipped some, and bagged our fourth sample.

As we headed home and approached the main road, as the wild winds calmed to the familiar murmur of the city street. We boarded the bus, bags full of plants, and wondered what it was we were carrying. Will we be able to discover, extract, and even grow our own Endophyte cultures from these different plants? Will we see any difference in presence of endophytes between the species or components of plant? And would we find a different kind of endophyte activity in these plants from Bull Island to those growing in our garden?