Dr. M. Soledad Benitez Ponce is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at the Ohio State University. Dr. Benitez Ponce studies how communities of microorganisms, and their interactions, contribute to plant health, under varying management practices that promote sustainability. For this she integrates microbial community surveys with field, greenhouse and laboratory manipulations.
In the recent years Dr. Benitez Ponce began working in hydroponic production systems. Her research interests in hydroponics stems from the ability to control environmental conditions, which will influence both the crops and the microorganisms in the system. In addition, the lower organismal complexity, relative to soil, found in hydroponic production, could potentially allow us to better manipulate microbial communities and predict responses to management practices.
Dr. Benitez Ponce currently leads a USDA funded grant, through which her project team are characterizing common microorganisms in lettuce production in hydroponic systems that can be either beneficial or pathogenic to produce and humans; and understand relationships between production practices and/or environmental conditions that might promote or mitigate specific microbial populations. As part of this project, they collaborate with several production facilities in Ohio. Further, they have recently completed the setup of nine deep water culture systems in our greenhouse, which will allow us to perform replicated experiments as it relates to nutrient solution and growing condition management, microbial communities and plant health management.