Conference Topic –  Growing Plants with Microbes for the Last 470 Million Years

Mycorrhizal fungi have co-existed with most of the world’s plants for some 470 million years, and maybe one of the world’s most wide-spread partnerships, emphasizing the importance of this ubiquitous symbiosis. The fungal-plant partnership is well-balanced. The plant offers the fungus carbon-rich food in exchange for offerings from the fungus such as nutrients and services, including delivery of water to the plant root zone. We will discuss how to reconnect domesticated crops with their natural mycorrhizal fungal partners, enabling growers to enrich their soil while using less external inputs. Overall, the fungal-plant symbiosis can result in more resilient crops and nutrient-dense foods that sustain fungi, plants and people.


Vickie grew up in the Arizona desert, inseparable from her horse. Fascinated by life, she spent 18 years in academia studying biology. As a UNM faculty member, she taught a few thousand students while exploring the nexus of microbes and chemistry. After the 9-11 trade towers fell, Vickie was invited to teach biotechnology to technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, work that led to the development of a biological weapons sensor. After many years in labs, she headed for the Amazon rainforest to reconnect with nature, where she lived with an indigenous tribe for two months. Currently she leads others on journeys deep into the Amazon, one of the most culturally and biologically diverse places on our planet. Ever the scientist, Vickie and her team of friends are growing ancient grains inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi to determine whether this ancient symbiotic pair will grow in lean New Mexico soils with minimal water and external inputs.