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Without microorganisms humans would not be able to survive. Especially our gut flora is an extremely densely populated ecosystem that houses billions of bacteria which help us to digest or detoxify food, supply us with vitamins, or modulate our immune system. Similarly, plants have also a so-called microbiome. In contrast to animals and humans, microorganisms associated with plants are primarily soil microbiota. Scientists consider the soil microbiome as a kind or external plant immune system. However, due to the enormous complexity of these microbiomes it is very difficult for scientists to group bacteria as beneficial or deleterious, and some bacterial taxa are even able to morph from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde upon environmental stresses.
A team of scientists led by Ian T. Baldwin is investigating the microbiome of the wild tobacco species Nicotiana attenuata. "In order to manipulate the microbiome, we used the expression of antimicrobial peptides. Our plants showed activity against different Bacillus species, which are mainly known as plant beneficial microbes. We assumed that that these transgenic plants might show deficits in growth or reproduction in field experiments. In other words: we wanted to make an unhappy plant to see how important microbes are for them. To our surprise, the plants appeared rather unimpressed when we compared them with controls in the field," first author Arne Weinhold summarizes.
Look - Results - Experiments - Strains - Species
However, a closer look and the results of further experiments indicate that different strains of the same bacterial species differ in sensitivity against antimicrobial peptides. Current methods used to characterize the microbiome fail to recognize these differences. The scientists believe that the antimicrobial peptides target single strains. Yet, the enormous diversity of bacteria in the soil provides a vast potential for new partnerships. The potential negative effects that AMP expression might have on a transgenic plant are...
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