Hacking the soil microbiome: the science of phage-based inoculants in the lab and ‘in the wild’

Mary Eliza

Legumes are a major source of protein for human consumption worldwide. Apart from harbouring a good amount of protein, legumes also harbour many beneficial bacteria in their root nodules.

Rhizobium is one of these bacterial species. They form a symbiotic association with legumes and fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can utilise. Rhizobium are currently used as soil inoculants to provide nitrogen to legume crops and this interaction between Rhizobium and legumes is an excellent example of food production without industrial inputs.

However, the Rhizobial community varies widely in their ability to fix nitrogen, some are very good at fixing nitrogen while others do not fix any nitrogen at all. 

My Ph.D explores the potential to enhance Rhizobial inoculants using viruses (phages). This would involve exploiting symbiotic interactions between bacteria and temperate phages – beneficial viruses which integrate into bacteria – for successful colonisation and nodulation of Rhizobium.

I will complement this work with the public participation of farmers in my project. Public participation aims to communicate and discuss the impact of my research on soil health and to develop techniques to improve efficiency of microbes in fields. 




Dr Ellie Harrison

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences


Dr Anna D Krzywoszynska

Sheffield Institute for Sustainable Food