Genetics of host plants determine what microorganisms they attract

Miscanthus seedheads against a sunset
Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

Plants often develop communities with microorganisms in their roots, which influences plant health and development. Although the recruitment of these microbes is dictated by several factors, it is unclear whether the genetic variation in the host plants plays a role. In a new study, researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign explored this question and their work can help improve agriculture productivity. 

“Previously, researchers have only looked at what kind of microbes are present in association with plants, but not what might be driving the formation of these communities and how we might be able to control these drivers through plant breeding,” said Angela Kent, a professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and affiliate in the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI).

Microbes form complex communities called microbiomes in and around the roots of plants. The host plants can dictate which microbes are invited into their roots—known as endophytes—using chemical signals. They can also alter the soil properties around the roots to influence which microbes can grow around the root surface, or rhizosphere. However, in order to breed plants based on what microbes they associate with, researchers first need to understand the extent to which plant genomes can influence the rhizosphere microbiome.

To answer this question, the researchers studied two native silver grass species—Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus floridulus. These plants are considered potential bioenergy crops because they require lower nutrient concentrations to achieve more growth compared to traditional crops.

Read more from the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

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