The secret life of plant-beneficial rhizosphere bacteria : insects as alternative hosts

Pronk, Lotte J.U.; Bakker, Peter A.H.M.; Keel, Christoph; Maurhofer, Monika; Flury, Pascale


Root-colonizing bacteria have been intensively investigated for their intimate relationship with plants and their manifold plant-beneficial activities. They can inhibit growth and activity of pathogens or induce defence responses. In recent years, evidence has emerged that several plant-beneficial rhizosphere bacteria do not only associate with plants but also with insects. Their relationships with insects range from pathogenic to mutualistic and some rhizobacteria can use insects as vectors for dispersal to new host plants. Thus, the interactions of these bacteria with their environment are even more complex than previously thought and can extend far beyond the rhizosphere. The discovery of this secret life of rhizobacteria represents an exciting new field of research that should link the fields of plant–microbe and insect–microbe interactions. In this review, we provide examples of plant-beneficial rhizosphere bacteria that use insects as alternative hosts, and of potentially rhizosphere-competent insect symbionts. We discuss the bacterial traits that may enable a host-switch between plants and insects and further set the multi-host lifestyle of rhizobacteria into an evolutionary and ecological context. Finally, we identify important open research questions and discuss perspectives on the use of these rhizobacteria in agriculture.