Understanding the links between lettuce leaf phenotypes and the abundance and diversity of microbes with a view to breeding for improved shelf life and safety
Leafy salads are very popular products due to their health benefits and convenience to eat however, leafy salads spoil quickly and are difficult to decontaminate resulting in large volumes of waste and outbreaks of food-borne disease. Understanding the link between plant phenotypic traits and the leaf microbiome may ultimately help to breed new varieties with improved shelf-life and/or safety.
Plants are host to a diverse array of microorganisms. These plant-associated microbes can affect plant productivity, development, health, crop quality and the microbiological safety of fresh produce. Leaf-associated microbes are of importance to the leafy salads industry because they can reduce crop yield and cause human disease or provide methods for the biocontrol of phytopathogens, food-borne disease and spoilage microorganisms. Identifying important plant host traits affecting microbial attachment, proliferation and diversity and elucidating the relationship between lettuce leaf phenotypes and microbial diversity, abundance and attachment will enable plant breeders to select traits that lead to cultivars with improved microbiological safety and/or shelf-life. This will ultimately help to reduce food waste and food borne disease and help to meet the growing food demands of the human population.