“The Master’s thesis on fungal structures in agricultural systems reads like a novel”

Four WUR students were honored last Friday at the University Fund Wageningen Thesis Award 2021 ceremony. Corentin Bisot won in the field of environmental sciences with his thesis on the growth behavior of soil fungi and was honored as the overall winner. According to the jury, Selena Koene, Carolina Sarzana and Sanne Put wrote the best theses in the fields of life sciences, social sciences and agrotechnology and food sciences.

As part of his master’s thesis, Corentin Bisot (MSc Terre et Environnement) conducted research on the growth behavior of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi in various environmental conditions. These soil fungi create vast, complex underground networks and form a symbiotic relationship with various plants and trees. They transmit nutrients from the soil to the plant and, in return, receive carbon resources. A well-functioning network can make a positive contribution to nutrient cycling in agricultural systems, and a better understanding of the growth of these underground networks can give us clues on how to stimulate optimal symbiosis.

Growth and branching of the fungus
Bisot studied the effects of temperature and the presence of nutrients in the soil on how the fungus grows and branches. He did this by a huge amount of high-resolution photographs of the growth of the fungus in petri dishes under different conditions, for which he used a recently developed robotic setup. He then analyzed this data with various algorithms and was able to draw interesting conclusions about the growth of fungi. For example, fungi grow faster at high temperatures, adapt their growth patterns to existing structures, and branch more when there is an uneven distribution of insoluble nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil.

Not only did Bisot use new techniques and bring to light interesting discoveries, but he also proved to be a good writer, according to the jury: “His thesis is well structured, well illustrated and well written; like a novel, in which the reader becomes eager to learn how the next hurdles were overcome.”

Bisot’s discoveries contribute to the development of a model that can be used in an agronomic context. Before that happens, however, much research still needs to be done on other aspects of growing these fungi.

The award ceremony took place on campus for the first time in two years this year, on a special day for donors, the Friends of Wageningen University Fund, who financially support the Dissertation Prize. The winners received their prize in the presence of dozens of Friends, members of the jury, winners, supervisors and chairholders, as well as family and friends of the winners. The president of the jury this year was Prof.dr.ir. Francine Govers, Professor of Molecular Plant Pathology at the WUR Plant Pathology Laboratory.

For more information:
Wageningen University and Research

Lana T. Arthur