Max Planck Researchers Uncover Key Genes Enabling Commensal Bacteria to Colonize Plants

by Anna

In a groundbreaking study, researchers from the Max Planck Institute have employed a novel experimental approach to identify a core set of genes crucial for commensal bacteria to successfully colonize their plant hosts. Published in Nature Communications, the findings hold broad implications for comprehending how bacteria establish thriving host–commensal relationships.

Plants host an extensive array of microorganisms, forming intricate communities on their roots and organs. These microbiomes, including bacteria, archaea, and fungi, play pivotal roles in plant nutrition, health, stress tolerance, and defense against pathogens. Harnessing the potential of these microbial communities could revolutionize agriculture by reducing reliance on fertilizers and pesticides.

While individual microorganism-plant interactions are frequently studied, understanding how multiple microbes simultaneously colonize and interact for more complex host-commensal relationships remains a challenge. Nathan Vannier and Stéphane Hacquard addressed this issue by exploring the establishment of individual microbes on plant roots within complex communities, starting with microbe-free thale cress plants.

Reintroducing a diverse microbial community to these plants allowed the researchers to investigate the genes activated or repressed during plant colonization. This analysis unveiled a core set of genes crucial for many bacteria to persist on plant roots, including those regulating virulence and stress responses, transmembrane polymer transport, and a gene set acting as a phosphate sensor.

Notably, mutating three identified genes hampered bacteria’s ability to colonize roots without affecting their growth in a controlled environment. This discovery marks a significant step toward engineering beneficial bacteria that can efficiently colonize host niches, offering potential applications in sustainable agriculture and medical science.

Stéphane Hacquard, lead researcher, emphasized the study’s implications, stating, “Our results could potentially pave the way for engineering beneficial bacteria that can efficiently colonize host niches and promote host health. This has implications not only for sustainable agriculture but also for advancements in medical science.”

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