Variety of Bacteria Living Inside Farming Trees in Kenya

Jim Crocker
9th February, 2024

Variety of Bacteria Living Inside Farming Trees in Kenya

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Imagine that within the secret inner world of plants, there exists an entire ecosystem of tiny, unseen allies working around the clock for the benefit of their leafy hosts. These organisms are called endophytes—various bacteria and fungi that call the inside of plants home, living between or within the cells, far away from our microbe-aware eyes. Now, you might think that anything living inside a living organism without an explicit invitation must be up to no good. But not these little guys! Far from causing disease, these bacterial endophytes are like the unsung heroes of the plant world, helping to promote plant health in various ways—like aiding in nutrient acquisition, stimulating growth, or even helping the plant defend against pests. Recently, a group of scientists turned their attention to the world of leguminous plants. Legumes, the plant family that includes peas and beans, are known for their importance in agriculture and their unique ability to fix nitrogen—a process that takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and converts it into a form that plants can use for growth. What makes this recent study particularly interesting is that the researchers were looking into an area not widely explored before: the diversity of bacterial endophytes in specific leguminous plants from western Kenya. They rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty with three types: Sesbania sesban, Leucaena diversifolia, and Calliandra calothyrsus. After carefully collecting samples from the leaves, stems, and roots of these plants, the scientists employed a combination of old-school and high-tech methods to identify who was hanging out where. They took the cultures they grew and checked whether the bacteria were Gram-positive or Gram-negative—a basic but handy distinction in the bacterial world that’s revealing about the organism's properties and possible functions. They also looked at the shapes of these tiny inhabitants, finding rods and spheres alike in this miniature ecosystem. But here’s where things get high-tech: by sequencing a gene called 16S rRNA, well known for its usefulness in getting to know bacteria at a molecular level, the researchers were able to tell just who they were dealing with. And oh, the diversity they found! Their detective work identified eight different bacterial genera among the endophytes. Imagine the tiny bustling cities within plants, where Bacillus (making up a big chunk—33.3% of the isolates!) coexist with Staphylococcus neighbors and Alcaligens, Pantoea, Xanthomonas, and Sphingomonas communities. Not to mention a few less common folks like Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas. A particularly intriguing find was that Bacillus—known to many as a sort of jack-of-all-trades in the bacterial world—was present across all three plant types. It’s a bit like finding a certain chain coffee shop in every city; there’s a sense of reliability and ubiquity to Bacillus that's very reassuring. Now, thanks to this exploration into the tiny ecosystems within plants, we have a better understanding of the complex web of life that supports plant health and growth. By getting a glimpse of this microscopic biodiversity, scientists can begin to ponder the roles these different bacterial species play and how they impact the overall well-being of legumes and potentially other plants. In case you're wondering why any of this matters to us—well, knowing who these bacterial endophytes are and what they can do might someday influence how we approach agriculture. Tapping into the natural support systems within plants could lead to more sustainable farming practices and potentially reduce our reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. So, the next time you’re enjoying a lovely legume-based meal, give a little nod of thanks to the invisible army of bacterial endophytes that are in part to thank for the bounty on your plate. Science is truly peeling back the layers of complexity within nature, revealing interconnectedness that we're only just beginning to understand. And all of this wonders, courtesy of the untiring efforts of researchers looking to answer some of life's small but impactful questions.

BiotechPlant ScienceAgriculture


Main Study

1) Diversity of endophytic bacteria isolated from leguminous agroforestry trees in western Kenya.

Published 8th February, 2024

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