Microbiome and ecotypic adaption of Holcus lanatus (L.) to extremes of its soil pH range, investigated through transcriptome sequencing

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BACKGROUND: Plants can adapt to edaphic stress, such as nutrient deficiency, toxicity and biotic challenges, by controlled transcriptomic responses, including microbiome interactions. Traditionally studied in model plant species with controlled microbiota inoculation treatments, molecular plant-microbiome interactions can be functionally investigated via RNA-Seq. Complex, natural plant-microbiome studies are limited, typically focusing on microbial rRNA and omitting functional microbiome investigations, presenting a fundamental knowledge gap. Here, root and shoot meta-transcriptome analyses, in tandem with shoot elemental content and root staining, were employed to investigate transcriptome responses in the wild grass Holcus lanatus and its associated natural multi-species eukaryotic microbiome. A full factorial reciprocal soil transplant experiment was employed, using plant ecotypes from two widely contrasting natural habitats, acid bog and limestone quarry soil, to investigate naturally occurring, and ecologically meaningful, edaphically driven molecular plant-microbiome interactions.

RESULTS: Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) and non-AM fungal colonization was detected in roots in both soils. Staining showed greater levels of non-AM fungi, and transcriptomics indicated a predominance of Ascomycota-annotated genes. Roots in acid bog soil were dominated by Phialocephala-annotated transcripts, a putative growth-promoting endophyte, potentially involved in N nutrition and ion homeostasis. Limestone roots in acid bog soil had greater expression of other Ascomycete genera and Oomycetes and lower expression of Phialocephala-annotated transcripts compared to acid ecotype roots, which corresponded with reduced induction of pathogen defense processes, particularly lignin biosynthesis in limestone ecotypes. Ascomycota dominated in shoots and limestone soil roots, but Phialocephala-annotated transcripts were insignificant, and no single Ascomycete genus dominated. Fusarium-annotated transcripts were the most common genus in shoots, with Colletotrichum and Rhizophagus (AM fungi) most numerous in limestone soil roots. The latter coincided with upregulation of plant genes involved in AM symbiosis initiation and AM-based P acquisition in an environment where P availability is low.

CONCLUSIONS: Meta-transcriptome analyses provided novel insights into H. lanatus transcriptome responses, associated eukaryotic microbiota functions and taxonomic community composition. Significant edaphic and plant ecotype effects were identified, demonstrating that meta-transcriptome-based functional analysis is a powerful tool for the study of natural plant-microbiome interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number48
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2018


  • Holcus lanatus, eukaryotic microbiome, meta-transcriptomics, community composition, gene expression, gene function, edaphic stress

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