Our laboratory focuses on pressing environmental issues and possible “green” solutions. Our three main research interests are in using natural plant-microbe partnerships to:

1) Improve plant growth with less input of chemicals and water

2) Remove environmental pollutants

3) Improve the sustainability of bioenergy production

Check out the short video that Illumina produced about our research. It is part of their collection of videos on Adventures in Genomics

Click here to download a more detailed overview of our lab's work

My Vision: To understand plant-endophyte interactions in natural systems at the molecular level and to apply that functional understanding to improving phytoremediation and the environmental sustainability of agriculture, forestry, and bioenergy crop production



Plant-Microbes for Improved Plant Growth and Environmental Sustainability

• Nitrogen (N) is an essential nutrient for plant growth. But since chemical fertilizers are produced using fossil fuels, excess N fertilizer in soils can be converted by soil microbes to nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, and fertilizers in agricultural run-off can disrupt aquatic ecosystems, a more environmentally-sustainable way of improving crop growth is needed.

• Plants growing in natural, nutrient-limited conditions may rely more on symbiosis, partnerships with microbes, to obtain the nutrients they need for growth.

• My lab studies the pioneering plant species, poplar (Populus) and willow (Salix), that naturally thrive in nutrient-limited areas. Often seen in rocky riparian zones such as the one pictured at the top of this website, poplar seedlings establish on sites where few other plant species can grow.

• We have isolated and studied many different bacteria and yeast from within these wild-grown trees and studied their symbiotic properties

• These microbes improve the growth of many other plants such as grasses, corn, rice, Douglas-fir trees, bell peppers, tomatoes, and more, with reduced requirements for fertilizer and water. The ability to recruit and support beneficial microbes may have been lost in modern agricultural cultivars.


Removing Environmental Pollutants

• Standard environmental solutions such as excavation and pump-and-treat are often far too expensive to be used

• Phytoremediation is the use of plants to remove pollutants

• When pollutants are too toxic, adding natural microbes that can break down the pollutant can help phytoremediation work much better. Our successful field trial of endophyte-assisted phytoremediation of the common, carcinogenic pollutant, TCE, was published in August 2017 (see the Publications tab for that article or the News tab for a press release on the topic)

Environmentally and Economically Sustainable Bioenergy Production

• The plant biomass of choice needs to be region-specific. For the Pacific Northwest, hybrid poplar is the fastest-growing, high biomass plant for biofuel production

• With funding from the USDA/AFRI program, a strong research program for sustainable biofuels from poplar is underway:

• By using natural microbial partners from wild poplar, we may be able to increase production in an environmentally-friendly way. Bioenergy or biofuels could be produced with fewer inputs since these microbes provide fixed nitrogen and bioavailable phosphate, and increase drought tolerance.

• Some of the microbes within poplar can produce valuable biochemicals and biofuels

WP1 oil production



Latest News

Follow us on twitter! @dotylab

March 18, 2019: A video made by ATTN about our N-fixing endophyte strains licensed to IntrinsyxBio went live this morning.  Check it out!

Oct 3, 2018: This Grist article is a fun read about the exciting times we are in on using endophytes rather than chemical fertilizers

August 10, 2018: Our lab's research was highlighted in this Smithsonian magazine article on N-fixation in maize.

Our lab is passionate about helping the environment but is limited by lack of federal funding. Please consider helping through a tax-deductible donation. Click on the “Donate” tab for more information.

Illumina produced an 8 minute video about our research. It is part of their collection of videos on Adventures in Genomics

Click on the News tab (upper left corner) for information on all the latest news and activites of our lab.

Professor Sharon Lafferty Doty

sharon picProf. Doty’s education is in genetics, microbiology, and plant biochemistry. For more information, see her C.V. She is the current Chair of the working group on Environmental and Ecosystem Services of the International Poplar Commission, a branch of the United Nations. She was recently (2018) re-elected vice president of the International Symbiosis Society in charge of education. Doty is part of the NSF-funded Plant Nitrogen Network (PlaNNet) to link together researchers. She is a member of the UW Astrobiology program and the UW-SPACE program. Professor Doty is part of the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) in the College of the Environment at the University of Washington.

Prof. Doty's Courses:

Environmental Applications of Plants

(ESRM 325 & SEFS 523)

Pacific NW Ecosystems (ESRM201)

Plant Microbe Interactions seminar (SEFS522)

Current Topics in Phytoremediation (SEFS 524)

Plant Microbiology Lab class (ESRM 404)

Symbiosis JC (SEFS 521B)


Contact Us

For any questions or comments about the lab, contact Sharon Doty at: