MIRACLE – MIcroencapsulation of Rhizobacteria and VOCs to increase plAnt growth and toLErance to drought: a biological approach to meet an agronomic need


Etelvina Figueira


Projetos de Investigação de Caráter Exploratório - 2022


01/01/2023 - 30/06/2024

Funding for CESAM

48072 €

Total Funding

48072 €

Funding Entity


Proponent Institution

Universidade de Aveiro



The current use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation enabled a steep increase in food production, sustaining the world population in the last decades, but with impacts to both human and natural systems. The current world population is about 7.7 billion and by 2050 the forecast is for a 26% increase, to about 9.7 billion people. The population increase will impose new challenges to the already identified Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) formulated by the United Nations. A pressure for food production, using sustainable methodologies with a reduced carbon footprint and a lower dependence on expensive and polluting inorganic fertilizers must be pursued, if the expected increase of 58 to 70% in the food need is to be attained while preserving the environment.
However, climate change is already being felt (Eurostat reported a decrease in cereals production in Europe in 2018 due to drought, and 4 years later the Portuguese territory is presently (late Winter) in moderate to extreme drought and the hot and dry days of the Mediterranean summer are yet to come) and the changes projected (increase in intensity, duration and frequency of extreme events) will hinder the pursuit of this objective. Indeed, in the EU, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) acknowledges that maintaining a drive for increased food production under climate change scenarios, while working towards preservation of environmental resources, is a challenging assignment and a main goal.
Current agricultural strategies promoting crop yield (breeding, agrochemical use and higher sowing densities) are also responsible for increasing crop susceptibility to drought. High yields are thus increasingly dependent on water, a situation that will not be possible to sustain for much longer and that needs urgent solution. Microbiome-based approaches are among the most important bioeconomy strategies to embrace sustainability of primary production and to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The European Union implemented the Bioeconomy Strategy and the EU Green Deal to respond to the SDG. One of the working groups of the International Bioeconomy Forum is focused on the application of microbiome technologies which are acknowledged as a way to support the development of a mature bioeconomy, the achievement of climate mitigation and the acceleration of bio-innovation in food systems. Moreover, the soil microbiome is recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for its crucial role in food production, food safety and environmental sustainability. A high body of research has been focused on well-known plant growth promoting abilities of microbes, such as production of phytohormones, nitrogen fixation, production of siderophores and ability to solubilize phosphate. However, some effects of microbial inoculants application are not explained by these promoting abilities, purporting that research is needed to identify new actors, to perceive their mode of action and their effects on plants, before they are used. Understanding the microbiome at the metabolomics level and the importance of their interaction with plants will bring results that informs potential solutions for an important societal challenge such as food security.
In recent years, the influence of several bacterial volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on plant growth has been described. However, the list is far from complete and little is known about the effective concentration and the mode of action of these compounds. MIRACLE intends to fill this gap by determining bacteria osmotolerance, by studying the mechanisms by which bacterial VOCs promote plant growth and increase resilience to drought, by identifying VOCs effects on plant processes (nutrient status, physiology, metabolomics, biochemistry, mechanisms of tolerance), and by improving bacterial survival and controlling the release of bioactive volatiles in the soil by encapsulation of bacteria and VOCs.
The end goal of MIRACLE is to deliver a body of knowledge to advance fundamental research on plant-microbe interactions, whilst providing technology that can be transferred to the industry for producing biostimulants and bioproducts for next generation green revolution and sustainable agriculture.
The team integrating the project includes professionals with different backgrounds and extensive experience in all the proposed methodologies, that supported by the consultant’s vast expertise in the application of bioinformatics tools in applied biology contexts and in bacterial volatile emission and their effects on plants, will ensure the scientific execution of the project, the transfer of technology, and the training of young professionals for the academy and agro-industry that will be the driving force of the future to help find new solutions to increase food security sustainably.

CESAM members in the project