Research News

Host, management, or microbial traits: Which is dominant in plant microbiome assemblages?

Shifts in plant microbiomes impact plant health

We've all seen news stories covering what you eat and how it can affect your microbiome. Changing your diet can shift your unique microbial fingerprint. That shift can cause a dramatic effect on your health. But what about the microbiomes of the plants you eat?

Scientists are beginning to see how changes in plant microbiomes also impact plants' health. Unlocking the factors in plant microbial assemblages can lead to innovative and sustainable solutions to increase yield and protect our crops, researchers say.

In a U.S. National Science Foundation-funded study published in Phytobiomes Journal, Frances Trail of Michigan State University and her colleagues were interested in three factors that might be related to microbial assemblages: the age of a plant, the organ or tissue type, and the management strategy.

The researchers conducted a three-year crop rotation that included corn, wheat and soybeans planted in a single field. They looked at a total of 24 plots under 4 different management strategies: till, no-till, reduced chemicals, and organic. The study was conducted at the NSF-funded Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Ecological Research site.

Many factors drive crop microbial assemblages. Researchers have studied organic management strategies and how they might provide more diversity compared to conventional ones. Scientists believe that plant genetics also play a role in assemblages, as each plant has a unique microbial fingerprint.

Researchers have also shown that microbes have adapted to a particular niche in a plant. The nutrient needs of stems and leaves are different than that of belowground sections. The microbial profile of a leaf differs from that of the soil and is often less diverse. Trail's study is one of the first to look at all these factors (management strategy, host genetics, and tissue type) at once.