Inspired by the Wonders of Biology
While Armando Bravo, PhD, Assistant Member and Principal Investigator, was an undergraduate studying engineering in Mexico, he went to a biology class with a friend.
In that class, his world began to expand. “The professor was talking about all of the beautiful things you can learn about biology,” says Armando. With the help of exciting biology classes, engaging professors, and the classic David Attenborough documentary, The Private Life of Plants, Armando found his way to plant science and became passionate about the symbiotic relationship between plants and microbes in the soil.
Plant and Microbes: A Symbiotic Relationship
Armando’s research focuses on developing a deeper understanding of the symbiotic relationship between plants and soil microbes. Armando specifically focuses on a fungus called ‘arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi’ (AMF), which live underground in tight association with plant roots. AMF help plants to take up nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from the soil, and to tolerate environmental stress. In exchange, plants offer up essential carbon-containing compounds necessary for AMF to grow.
Armando and his lab want to understand how the mechanisms of this mutually beneficial relationship work. “The relationship between plants and microbes has evolved over millions of years,” says Armando. “How did this relationship evolve? How have these mechanisms been adapted to benefit the vast diversity of modern day plants that have this very important relationship with fungi?”
Improving Agriculture and the Environment
Armando’s research has the potential to make agriculture more sustainable. Modern day agriculture was not developed to be highly nitrogen efficient. As a result, it is a common agriculture practice to apply nitrogen fertilizer to crops in order to produce enough food to feed the planet. This practice is expensive for farmers, and excess nitrogen contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and pollutes water systems. A deeper understanding of the relationship between plants and microbes could enable researchers to improve the nitrogen uptake efficiency of crops, reducing the use of synthetic fertilizer, water, and other inputs in agriculture.
Forging a Path
Strong mentors played a critical role in Armando's career in plant science, and he wants to continue that legacy of helping students find their path. “I’ve always enjoyed being able to help students figure out their next step, whether they enjoy plant science or not. Figuring out what you don’t like is just as important as figuring out what you do like,” he says. As Armando continues to build out his lab at the Danforth Center, he is looking forward to creating more opportunities for early-career scientists.