Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa
L.) production is increasing dramatically in the US due to recent changes which lift restrictions on the growth and sale of hemp products; however, due to the decades-long prohibition of hemp, there is a lack of current research with respect to varieties and best agricultural practices for the many uses of this versatile crop. Natural fiber production relies on retting, a microbially-mediated process necessary for the separation of fibers from the plant which can occur unevenly in the field environment and result in inconsistent fiber quality and lower processing efficiency. In this study, the microbiome of hemp stalks is investigated throughout the retting process using 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing using the Illumina MiSeq platform. Field retting conditions were simulated in a controlled greenhouse environment in order to determine the effects of different moisture levels and soil contact on the retting process. Samples were taken over six time points, reflecting the community of freshly cut stalks to optimally-retted material, and finally over-retted material showing degraded fibers. The results show a very consistent population throughout retting, dominated primarily by Proteobacteria
, but showing an increase in the abundance of the Bacteroidetes
, namely Chryseobacterium
, in time points corresponding to optimally-retted and over-retted stalks in treatments receiving higher moisture levels, but not in the low-moisture treatment. Soil application did not appear to influence the microbial community throughout retting, indicating a resilient population present in and on the hemp stalks at harvest.
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