Plant Microbiology Lab: Using Symbiosis to Help the Earth

Gold logoMy 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

2) remove environmental pollutants

3) improve the sustainability of bioenergy production

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

Click here to learn more about the N-fixing endophytes and the implications for agriculture, bioenergy, and forestry

Reasearch Interests:


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 (cottonwood) and willow, that naturally thrive in nutrient-limited areas

• 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, trees, bell peppers, tomatoes, and more, without reduced requirements for fertilizers and water


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

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

May 22, 2015 - Check out the latest article in ScienceMag about the Doty Lab's efforts to establish acceptance of the importance of nitrogen-fixing endophytes. Click on the News tab for all the latest 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 applications of the International Poplar Commission, a branch of the United Nations. She was recently elected vice chair of the International Symbiosis Society in charge of education: ISS. She is a member of the UW Astrobiology program. Professor Doty is part of the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) in the College of the Environment

Our lab is passionate about helping the environment but is always limited by insufficient funding. You can help through a fully tax-deductible donation to support this important environmental science research. Click on the “Donate” tab for more information.

Contact Us

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

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