Diversity, ecology, and biotechnological potential of microorganisms naturally associated with plants in arid lands

  • María José Mosqueira Santillán

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Plants naturally host complex microbial communities in which the plant and the symbiotic partners act as an integrated metaorganism. These communities include beneficial (i.e. plant growth promoting, PGP) microorganisms which provide fundamental ecological services able to enhance host plant fitness and stress tolerance. PGP microorganisms represent a potential bioresource for agricultural applications, especially for desert farming under the harsh environmental conditions occurring in hot/arid regions (i.e. drought and salinity). In this context, understanding the ecological aspects of the associated microorganisms is crucial to take advantage of their ecological services. Here, hot/desert ecosystems were selected and two contrasting plant categories were used as models: (i) wild plants (i.e. speargrasses) growing in hot-desert sand dunes and (ii) the main crop cultivated in desert ecosystems, the date palm. By using highthroughput DNA sequencing and microscopy, the ecology and functionality of the microbial communities associated with these plants were characterized. Additionally, the PGP services of bacteria isolated from date palm were explored. I found that the harsh conditions of the desert strongly affect the selection and assembly of microbial communities associated with three different speargrass species, determining a plant species-independent core microbiome always present among the three plant species and carrying important PGP traits. On the contrary, in agroecosystems where desert farming practices are used, the plant species, i.e. date palm exerts a stronger selective pressure than the environmental and edaphic factors favoring the recruitment of conserved microbial assemblages, independent of the differences in the soil and environmental conditions among the studied oases. Such selective pressure also favors the recruitment of conserved PGP microorganisms (i.e. Pseudomonas sp. bacterial strains) able to protect their host from salinity stress through the induction of root architectural changes regulated by the modification of the root system auxin homeostasis. Overall, we found that deserts are unique ecosystems that challenge the paradigm of microbial community assembly, as it was defined from studies in non-arid ecosystems. The understanding of the ecological features regulating the ecological properties of such unique microbial community assembly will be a key-step to improve the chances of successful application of ‘PGP microorganisms’ in arid agroecosystems.
Date of AwardJul 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Science and Engineering
SupervisorDaniele Daffonchio (Supervisor)

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