The goal of the TWIN ecosystem project (TWINS) is to pilot laboratory and field ecosystems that use sensors and autonomous controls to test the hypothesis that compositional changes in root exudates during drought stress select for beneficial rhizosphere microbes.

TWINS brings together unique resources in fabricated ecosystems at Berkeley Lab, field ecology expertise and resources at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), sensor and omics expertise at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), lab automation and omics expertise at the DOE Joint Genome Institute, and mathematical and computational expertise from Center for Advanced Mathematics for Energy Research Applications (CAMERA).

TWINS also builds on existing resources for investigating molecular interactions in the rhizosphere to gain insights into whether tall wheatgrass exudates select rhizosphere communities in response to drought, enabling us to leverage an existing PNNL drought study using tall wheatgrass (Thinopyrum ponticum).

Tall wheatgrass is a widely distributed species adapted to dry northern latitudes that is being considered as a bioenergy feedstock on marginal lands. It is known to develop soil “resource islands” or “hot spots” that may impose heterogeneous spatial distribution of important plant exudates impacting the soil microbiome, especially in response to drought when plants may differentially allocate photosynthates to particular roots. The field ‘twin’ will define climate conditions and hyperspectral signatures of drought stress enabling the lab ‘twin’ to characterize the composition, localization, and dynamics of microbes and exudates—providing powerful environmental controls and measurements which are essentially not possible in the field.

Learn about the EcoBOT, one of the key components of TWINS: