Rhizosphere protists are key determinants of plant health

Xiong, Wu; Song, Yuqi; Yang, Keming; Gu, Yian; Wei, Zhong; Kowalchuk, George A.; Xu, Yangchun; Jousset, Alexandre; Shen, Qirong; Geisen, Stefan


Background: Plant health is intimately influenced by the rhizosphere microbiome, a complex assembly of organisms that changes markedly across plant growth. However, most rhizosphere microbiome research has focused on fractions of this microbiome, particularly bacteria and fungi. It remains unknown how other microbial components, especially key microbiome predators - protists - are linked to plant health. Here, we investigated the holistic rhizosphere microbiome including bacteria, microbial eukaryotes (fungi and protists), as well as functional microbial metabolism genes. We investigated these communities and functional genes throughout the growth of tomato plants that either developed disease symptoms or remained healthy under field conditions. Results: We found that pathogen dynamics across plant growth is best predicted by protists. More specifically, communities of microbial-feeding phagotrophic protists differed between later healthy and diseased plants at plant establishment. The relative abundance of these phagotrophs negatively correlated with pathogen abundance across plant growth, suggesting that predator-prey interactions influence pathogen performance. Furthermore, phagotrophic protists likely shifted bacterial functioning by enhancing pathogen-suppressing secondary metabolite genes involved in mitigating pathogen success. Conclusions: We illustrate the importance of protists as top-down controllers of microbiome functioning linked to plant health. We propose that a holistic microbiome perspective, including bacteria and protists, provides the optimal next step in predicting plant performance. [MediaObject not available: see fulltext.]