Characterizing carrot microbiomes and their potential role in soil organic matter decomposition
Plant microbiomes are increasingly recognized for their potential to help plants with critical functions such as nutrient acquisition. Nitrogen is the most limiting nutrient in agriculture and growers apply substantial amounts to meet crop needs. Only 50% of N fertilizers are generally taken up by plants and the rest is subject to loss which negatively affects environmental quality. Organic fertilizers such as cover crops and animal manure can help reduce this loss, though these materials must mineralize via microbial mediated processes before they are available for plant uptake, which makes managing fertility using these sources difficult. Some plants can scavenge nutrients from organic materials by stimulating positive priming processes in soil. Carrot (Daucus carota. L) is known as an N scavenging crop, making it an ideal model crop to study these interactions. In a greenhouse trial, soils were amended with an isotopically labeled corn residue to track N movement, and planted with one of five carrot genotypes expected to differ in nitrogen use efficiency (NUE). Changes in soil b-glucosidase activity, ammonium (NH4+-N) and nitrate (NO3- -N) concentrations, soil bacterial community composition, weight and carbon and N concentrations, and total δ15N of above and below ground carrot biomass were determined. Results indicate that there are genetic differences in the ability of carrots to promote priming under N limited conditions, which could be exploited to enhance NUE in carrots. Soil microbial communities differed between genotypes, indicating that some of these microbes could play a role in the differential N scavenging responses observed, and/or contribute to other important functions such as resistance to pests. Endophytic microbes residing inside carrot taproots also have potential to contribute to NUE and other benefits, but are notoriously difficult to isolate and culture. New next generation sequencing technologies have revolutionized the study of microbiomes, though using these tools to study bacterial endophytes in plants is still difficult due to co-amplification of plant organelles. Consequently, a second study was conducted to determine if subjecting carrot tissues to hollow fiber microfiltration followed by enzymatic digestion could enhance recovery and amplification of bacterial endophytes. Carrot taproot digests were subject to amplification using a standard V3-V4 16S primer set, as well as two alternative (blocking and mismatch) primer sets that have prevented amplification of plastids/mitochondria in other plant species. Results indicate that the microfiltration/digestion procedure can increase the number of bacterial endophyte OTUs assigned and could be further optimized for use in carrots. The blocking and mismatch primer sets were not as effective in blocking co-amplification of plant products as they are in other studies, possibly due to the presence of a high number of chromoplasts in carrot tissues. Taxonomic assignment of bacterial endophytes differed significantly between the primer sets, indicating that multiple primer sets may be needed to fully characterize these communities in carrots. The enzymatic digestion procedure could artificially inflate certain taxa, which could be helpful if targeting specific taxa. These studies demonstrate that carrots are intimately connected with microbes residing in the soil and within their taproots, and further exploration of these plant-soil-microbial relationships could enhance the yield and sustainability of carrot production systems.