Beetroot and spinach seed microbiomes can suppress Pythium ultimum infection: results from a large-scale screening

Diakaki, Makrina; Heijden, Liesbeth Van Der; Lopez-Reyes, Jorge Giovanny; Nieuwenhoven, Anita Van; Notten, Martje; Storcken, Mirjam; Butterbach, Patrick; Köhl, Jürgen; Boer, Wietse De; Postma, Joeke


Seed health is an indispensable prerequisite of food security. While the toolkit of plant protection products is currently limited, evidence suggests that the seed microbiome could protect seeds from pathogens. Thus, given their possible disease suppressive potential, we tested 11 different pathosystems to achieve the following proof-of-concept: seed microbiomes can be beneficial for seed health through conferring disease suppression. This study focused on beetroot, onion, spinach, pepper, coriander, red fescue and perennial ryegrass seeds, with each crop being challenged with one or two from a total of six pathogens, namely Pythium ultimum (or a Pythium sp.), Setophoma terrestris, Fusarium oxysporum, Phytophthora capsici, Laetisaria fuciformis and a mix of Puccinia sp. isolates. Each seed lot of each crop was tested with and without treatment with a disinfectant as a proxy for comparing intact seed microbiomes with seed microbiomes after partial elimination by disinfection. We found disease suppression in two pathosystems. Beetroot and spinach seed lots were able to suppress disease caused by P. ultimum when their microbiomes were intact but not after seed disinfection. We speculate that this relates to the microorganisms residing on and in the seed. Yet, seed microbiome disease suppression was not found in all pathosystems, highlighting the variation in seed morphology, plant cultivars, pathogens and seed disinfection treatments. A holistic understanding of the characteristics of seeds that harbour suppressive microbiomes as well as the pathogens that are sensitive to suppression could lead to more targeted and informed seed processing and treatment and, consequently, to the sustainable management of seedling diseases.