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Effect of native New Jersey Pine Barrens bacteria on germination of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

Peninah Engel: Rutgers University

<div>The New Jersey Pine Barrens (NJPB), an ecosystem featuring low soil pH and low nutrient levels, is home to the native perennial switchgrass (<span><em>Panicum virgatum</em></span>). To improve viability of switchgrass as a biofuel feedstock, germination and establishment rates of switchgrass seeds must be increased. Native switchgrass seeds in the NJPB are colonized by bacteria whose ecological functions are not yet characterized, although seed effects are proposed ranging from inhibition to promotion of germination. In this study, strains of bacteria that belong to <em></em><span>genera <em>Pantoea, Bacillus, Burkholderia</em>, and <em>Paenibacillus</em></span> isolated from NJPB switchgrass seeds were screened for their effects on switchgrass seeds. Commercially available switchgrass seeds from an upland cultivar (Carthage) and a lowland cultivar (Kanlow) were inoculated with the native bacteria. Germination rates and root quality were assessed in a benchtop assay over a period of four weeks. Investigation of the effects of the native bacteria on switchgrass seeds will inform further study of how the seed microbiome can be manipulated to promote switchgrass establishment and reduce negative impacts of bacterial colonization.</div>