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News Article

Three is a magic number

Interactions between trees, fungi and bacteria in response to soil contamination

Phytoremediation describes the process of using green plants and their associated microbiota to remove or otherwise nullify soil, water and air pollutants. Understanding the composition of fungi and bacteria necessary to catalyse this process is of equal importance to understanding the ecological conditions required for the plant. It is only recently, through the use of metagenomics that a picture is beginning to build of the fungal and bacterial groups that are most prevalent in these stressing conditions.

Salix purpurea cv. ‘Fish Creek’ is one such phytoremediation crop renowned for its quick growth. This tree species formed the focus of a recent study in Montreal which used Illumina HiSeq 2500 sequencing and de novo transcriptome assembly to compare differences in gene expression between trees grown in contaminated and non-contaminated soil without using any prior assumptions as to sequence origin. The pollutant studied by the authors was petroleum hydrocarbons, commonly released into the environment through oil spills with disastrous consequences for wildlife.

The results revealed an increase in the expression of genes linked to: abiotic stress, response functions and transcripts indicative of fungal interaction. At a higher level, differences in fungal community composition were also noted between the exposed and non-exposed plants, the former containing a higher abundance of Basidiomycota and the later more Ascomycota genera. Overall 1745 Basidiomycota transcripts increased in response to the contaminated environment. From this, researchers have suggested that the Ascomycota genera which form white rot (mainly Pyronema) as well as an occasionally ectomycorrhizal (ECM) Ascomycota (Tuber) and ECM Basidiomycota (Hebeloma) might have been outcompeted by an ECM Basidiomycota.

Whilst fungal genes comprised the majority of assembled sequences, an increase in the presence of polycistronic transcripts from uncharacterised Enterobacteriaceae species was also detected. Whilst their functions could not fully be assessed they were suspected to play roles in biofilm formation and dioxygenase hydrocarbon degradation.

By taking a cross-taxa view of the genetics at play in these systems, researchers were able to gain a much clearer idea of how phytoremediation crops are able to adapt in contaminated soils and visualise complex mutualistic interactions in a novel way.

Journal reference:

E. Gonzalez et al. Trees, fungi and bacteria: tripartite metatranscriptomics of a root microbiome responding to soil contamination. Microbiome, 2018 DOI: 10.1186/s40168-018-0432-5


To find over 800 similar articles, use these search terms in the Forest Science Database. A selection of relevant papers can be found in the further reading section below:

("Salix purpurea" OR "purple willow" OR "purple osier" OR "petroleum hydrocarbons" OR "petroleum" OR "kerosene" OR "crude oil" OR "metagenom*") AND (“pollution” OR "bioremediation" OR "phytoremediation" OR "hyperaccumulator plants")

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • Ellen Baker
  • Date
  • 30 April 2018
  • Source
  • McGill University
  • Subject(s)
  • Environment