Long-term effect of epigenetic modification in plant-microbe interactions: modification of DNA methylation induced by plant growth-promoting bacteria mediates promotion process.
Background: Soil microbiomes are considered a cornerstone of the next green revolution, and plant growth-promoting bacteria (PGPB) are critical for microbiome engineering. However, taking plant-beneficial microorganisms from discovery to agricultural application remains challenging, as the mechanisms underlying the interactions between beneficial strains and plants in native soils are still largely unknown. Increasing numbers of studies have indicated that strains introduced to manipulate microbiomes are usually eliminated in soils, while others have reported that application of PGPB as inocula significantly improves plant growth. This contradiction suggests the need for a deeper understanding of the mechanisms underlying microbe-induced growth promotion. Results: We showed PGPB-induced long-term plant growth promotion after elimination of the PGPB inoculum in soils and explored the three-way interactions among the exogenous inoculum, indigenous microbiome, and plant, which were key elements of the plant growth-promoting process. We found the rhizosphere microbiome assembly was mainly driven by plant development and root recruitments greatly attenuated the influence of inocula on the rhizosphere microbiome. Neither changes in the rhizosphere microbiome nor colonization of inocula in roots was necessary for plant growth promotion. In roots, modification of DNA methylation in response to inoculation affects gene expression related to PGPB-induced growth promotion, and disruptions of the inoculation-induced DNA methylation patterns greatly weakened the plant growth promotion. Together, our results showed PGPB-induced DNA methylation modifications in roots mediated the promotion process and these modifications remained functional after elimination of the inoculum from the microbiome. Conclusion: This study suggests a new mechanism in which PGPB affect DNA methylation in roots to promote plant growth, which provides important insights into microbiome-plant interactions and offers new strategies for plant microbiome engineering beyond the perspective of maintaining inoculum persistence in soils.