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Bacteria inside plant roots battle fungal disease

Two bacterial species team up inside the plant root system to rescue their host from fungal infection. This was discovered by a team of microbiologists and bioinformaticians from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, Wageningen University, and the Institute of Biology Leiden. They also identified the genes involved in this defence mechanism. Publication in Science.

Novel genes

Microorganisms inhabiting plant roots live in close relationship with the plant and contribute to growth and tolerance to (a)biotic stresses. The published study shows that two bacterial species team up together inside the root system to rescue plants from fungal infections. The researchers also identified genes involved in this mechanism, as well as many other microbial genes whose functions are yet unknown.

Microbiome reconstructed

‘This research is one of the first examples in which a disease protective microbiome is reconstructed using metagenomics, a sequencing approach to map the taxonomic and functional diversity of microbiomes’, says first author Víctor J. Carrión, assistant professor at the Institute of Biology Leiden.   

Sugarbeet affected by Rhizoctonia solani (credits: Fk)

Sustainable crop production

Carrión used sugar beet as a plant model for his research, which is affected, like many other important food crops, by the pathogenic fungus Rhizoctonia solani. Corresponding author of the paper, Professor of Microbial Ecology Jos Raaijmakers: ‘Microbes are essential for all eukaryotes, such as plants, animals and humans. Our main goal was to look inside of plant root tissue and search for microorganisms that are recruited and activated by the plant when it is under attack by a fungal pathogen. This study represents a big step forward for developing more sustainable crop production systems with less pesticides.’

Combination of disciplines

It was an exciting process to get the article published in Science, says Carríon. About seven months ago he submitted the first version of this paper to one of the most renowned scientific journals worldwide. He worked for more than six years on this research, mostly at NIOO-KNAW and in the final stages at the Institute of Biology Leiden, where he is now employed. The work is the result of strong collaboration within a multidisciplinary team, also involving the labs of Gilles van Wezel (IBL), John van der Oost and Marnix Medema (both WUR) and international partners in Brazil, Colombia and USA. Raaijmakers: ‘Our study represents a significant advance in plant microbiome research, which was possible only by integrating different scientific disciplines.

Header image by The KWS Group

Publication: Carrión, V.J.; Perez-Jaramillo, J.; Cordovez, V.; Tracanna, V.; de Hollander, M.; Ruiz-Buck, D.; Mendes, L.W.; van IjckenW.F.J.; Gomez-Exposito, R;  Elsayed, S.S.; Mohanraju, P.; Arifaf, A.; van der Oost, J.;  Paulson, J.N.; Mendes, R.; van Wezel, G.P.; Medema, M.H.; Raaijmakers, J.M., 2019. Pathogen-induced activation of disease-suppressive functions in the endophytic root microbiome. Science, Vol 366, Issue 6465, pp. 606-612, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw9285

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