Defense hormones guide plant roots’ mix of microbes | Science News

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Defense hormones guide plant roots’ mix of microbes

Salicylic acid attracts some bacteria, repels others, study finds

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2:00pm, July 16, 2015
roots of a weed called Arabidopsis thaliana

ROOT BOUND  The roots of a weed called Arabidopsis thaliana (shown) make a hormone called salicylic acid. That hormone attracts some bacteria to the roots while shooing others away.

Plants help tend their own gardens. Salicylic acid, a plant hormone used to fight bacterial infections in leaves, also helps plants select which bacteria colonize their roots, researchers report online July 16 in Science.

The finding provides an unexpected piece to an unsolved puzzle in plant biology: why some microbes flock to the roots of certain plants regardless of soil type.

Researchers thought there were two possibilities for how specific collections of microbes get together with roots, says Cara Haney, a microbiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Either plants are just sticks in the mud that certain bacteria like to eat, or plants play a role in shaping that community,” she says. Haney, who was not involved in the new study, investigates interactions between plants and microbes.

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