Soil bacteria and protozoa affect root branching via effects on the auxin and cytokinin balance in plants
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Lateral roots are crucial for the plasticity of root responses to environmental conditions in soil. The bacterivorous microfauna has been shown to increase root branching and to foster auxin producing soil bacteria. However, information on modifications of plant internal auxin content by soil bacteria and bacterivores is missing. Therefore, the effects of a rhizosphere bacterial community and a common soil amoeba (Acanthamoeba castellanii) on root branching and on auxin (indole-3-acetic acid) metabolism in Lepidium sativum and Arabidopsis thaliana were investigated. In a first experimental series, bacteria increased conjugated auxin concentrations in L. sativum shoots, but did not alter free bioactive auxin content nor root branching. In contrast, in presence of soil bacteria plus amoebae free auxin concentrations in shoots and root branching increased, demonstrating that effects of bacteria on auxin metabolism in plants were strongly modified by the bacterivorous amoebae. In a second experiment, A. thaliana reporter plants for auxin (DR5) and cytokinin (ARR5) responded similarly with increased root branching in the presence of amoebae. Surprisingly, in reporter plants cytokinin but not auxin responses were detectable, accompanied by higher soil nitrate concentrations in the presence of amoebae. Likely, increased nitrate concentrations in the rhizosphere led to an accumulation of cytokinin and interactions with free auxin in plants and finally to increased root growth in the presence of amoebae. Altogether, the results show that mutual control mechanisms exist between plant hormone metabolism and microbial signalling, and that effects on hormonal concentrations of plants by free-living bacteria are strongly influenced by bacterial grazers like amoebae.