Salicylic acid modulates colonization of the root microbiome by specific bacterial taxa

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Science  21 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6250, pp. 860-864
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa8764

Immune signals shape root communities

To thwart microbial pathogens aboveground, the plant Arabidopsis turns on defensive signaling using salicylic acid. In Arabidopsis plants with modified immune systems, Lebeis et al. show that bacterial communities change in response to salicylic acid signaling in the root zone as well (see the Perspective by Haney and Ausubel). Abundance of some root-colonizing bacterial families increased at the expense of others, partly as a function of whether salicylic acid was used as an immune signal or as a carbon source for microbial growth.

Science, this issue p. 860; see also p. 788


Immune systems distinguish “self” from “nonself” to maintain homeostasis and must differentially gate access to allow colonization by potentially beneficial, nonpathogenic microbes. Plant roots grow within extremely diverse soil microbial communities but assemble a taxonomically limited root-associated microbiome. We grew isogenic Arabidopsis thaliana mutants with altered immune systems in a wild soil and also in recolonization experiments with a synthetic bacterial community. We established that biosynthesis of, and signaling dependent on, the foliar defense phytohormone salicylic acid is required to assemble a normal root microbiome. Salicylic acid modulates colonization of the root by specific bacterial families. Thus, plant immune signaling drives selection from the available microbial communities to sculpt the root microbiome.

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