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Hydroponics microbiome

The root-associated microbiome is critical to plant health by contributing to plant growth, nutrient uptake, and (a)biotic stress resistance. Moreover, these favorable properties make the amendment plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) of commercial interest as it can sustainably reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and crop protection products and help protect against increasingly threatening climate changes that affect stable crop production. Although research is starting to improve our understanding of soil microbial communities, our knowledge of community functioning in a hydroponic environment is still limited. Therefore, the complexity of plant-microbe interactions in hydroponics requires further exploration. Our research focuses on developing PGPR consortia, plant growing media, and nutrient solutions to improve the quality and yield of several crops and hydroponics system robustness.


Zero Waste approach voor vruchtgroenten onder glas (IWT/VLAIO, 2021-2024). Danny Geelen, Katleen Raes, Steven De Meester, Tina Kyndt

This is a project run by a consortium of Inagro, Proefcentrum Hoogstraten, Proefstation voor Groenteteelt, UGent – Vakgroep Levensmiddelentechnologie, Voedselveiligheid en Gezondheid, Molecular Biotechnology and HortiCell.

HortiCell contributes to this project by testing biostimulant activity from tomato and cucumber waste streams.

In a biobased economy, multiple uses of biomass, such as byproducts is aimed. This can be achieved by linking different parts in the chain in a cost-effective manner. At this moment, it is difficult to collect and process plant residues coming from high-wire cultivation in the greenhouse horticulture (tomato, paprika, cucumber). One major challenge is the contamination of the foliage. Due to the use of conventional binding materials, such as polypropylene or nylon, the foliage is mixed with the ropes and clips on collection. As such, some sales opportunities are no longer possible, and processing of the byproducts results in an increased share of the operational costs. Therefore the aim of the project is to valorise the byproducts, which are currently regarded as waste as high as possible. 

Indoor cultivation of lettuce treated with microbes

PhD project Thijs Van Gerrewey

BIOSTIMUL’EAU: The VLAIO Baekeland project of PhD Thijs Van Gerrewey (2018-2021) investigated the potential of transfer of microbiota to hydroponic cultivation and indoor farming. The project is a close partnership between Ghent University, Urban Crop Solutions and Agaris. The Biostimul’eau project has shown that microbes from the rhizosphere of various sources can be transplanted to indoor cultivated lettuce and alter its productivity and quality. Future studies aim to identify specific microbes that contributed to improved lettuce growth.

PhD project Brechtje De Haas

The circular use of the nutrient solution used in hydroponic cultivation systems is a major factor limiting the water requirements of indoor farming. However, the quality of the nutrient solution does not remain stable and can in some instances become toxic for the plant. The secretion of exudate, organic molecules released by the root system and microbes feeding on these molecules are believed to contribute to toxicity of the nutrient solution. This relation between exudate and rhizosphere microbiome is investigated and methods to counter the problem, will be tested.

PhD project Xinquan Hu

The rhizosphere of indoor crops is marked with specific populations of microbes adapted to the water environment. Previous studies have shown that even in such low oxygen conditions, transplantation of microbial communities is possible and that it affects the growth characteristics. Here we aim to investigate which microbes are prone to thrive under hydroponic conditions and investigate which kind of growth promoting properties these may have to support indoor crop growth.