Root bacterial endophytes alter plant phenotype, but not physiology
by Jeremiah A. Henning, David J. Weston, Dale A. Pelletier, Collin M. Timm, Sara S. Jawdy, Aimee T. Classen
Plant traits, such as root and leaf area, influence how plants interact with their environment and the diverse microbiota living within plants can influence plant morphology and physiology. Here, we explored how three bacterial strains isolated from the Populus root microbiome, influenced plant phenotype. We chose three bacterial strains that differed in predicted metabolic capabilities, plant hormone production and metabolism, and secondary metabolite synthesis. We inoculated each bacterial strain on a single genotype of Populus trichocarpa and measured the response of plant growth related traits (root:shoot, biomass production, root and leaf growth rates) and physiological traits (chlorophyll content, net photosynthesis, net photosynthesis at saturating light–Asat, and saturating CO2–Amax). Overall, we found that bacterial root endophyte infection increased root growth rate up to 184% and leaf growth rate up to 137% relative to non-inoculated control plants, evidence that plants respond to bacteria by modifying morphology. However, endophyte inoculation had no influence on total plant biomass and photosynthetic traits (net photosynthesis, chlorophyll content). In sum, bacterial inoculation did not significantly increase plant carbon fixation and biomass, but their presence altered where and how carbon was being allocated in the plant host.