Plant-microbe interactions are integral part of any ecosystem. During the long period of co-existence, different relationships have evolved between endophytic fungi and their host plants and they can be categorized as: (i) mutualistic, (ii) antagonistic (pathogenic), and (iii) neutralistic (commensalistic). Fungus-host plant relationships should be regarded as flexible interaction, whose directionality is determined by slight differences in fungal gene expression in response to the host reaction, or conversely, by host recognition and response to the fungi. Hence, slight genetic differences in the genomes of both partners control the outcome of the symbiosis. The genetic background, nutrient level and ecological habitats of the host plants are considered as the important-choice factors on the population structure of the endophytic fungi that, in turn, confer benefits to the plant, such as stimulated growth, increased resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, as well as accumulation of bioactive components. In this context, discovering how endophytic microbes collaborate to improve the hardiness of plants is a key to sustainable agriculture that can help to meet increasing food demands.
Amongst the major environmental stresses affecting crop productivity, salinity and drought are the major ones. Theses stresses induce a range of physiological and biochemical responses in plants. There are many research findings to indicate the beneficial effect of endophytic fungi in imparting tolerance to abiotic stresses. However, the exact mechanisms of the acclimation response are not well studied. In this proposal it is envisaged to examine the ecological significance of endophytic fungi-induced stress tolerance in Solanaceae plants. We propose to identify abiotic stress tolerant fungi from salt adapted Solanaceae plants and evaluate their ability in imparting stress tolerance to sensitive plants. Since many plant processes involved in stress acclimation have been attributed to endophytic fungal association, attempts would be made to examine the molecular mechanisms of plant-fungal association.