Date palms have two favourite bacterial growth partners

Date, palm

Farmed date palms have co-evolved with bacteria for such a long time that their roots attract the microbes that promote survival.

Research conducted by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia, entailed the DNA sequencing of the bacteria that is found at the roots of date palm trees. The findings suggested that date palms, that are cultivated across the Tunisian Sahara Desert, consistently attract two types of growth promoting bacteria to their roots.

There are a multitude of factors effecting which bacteria associate with plants. Research conducted on natural ecosystems show that, depending on the bacteria’s needs, different growth-promoting bacteria are attracted to different plants.

“But what happens in ecosystems where features of natural and agricultural environments converge, like in desert oases?” asks King Abdullah University of Science and Technology graduate Maria Mosqueira. “Under a climate change scenario, it is important to understand the role of microorganisms in arid ecosystems,” she explains.

The research spanned a 22,200 km2 stretch of the Tunisian Sahara Desert, analysing various contrasting environments, such as; the seacoast, mountains, sand dunes and in the saline soil region of the northern edge of the desert.

The team of researchers from KAUST discovered that the soil directly attached to the date palm roots was significantly modified in comparison to the surrounding soil. Despite the geographical variation of the dominant bacterial species in the surrounding soil, date palm roots consistently associate with the same two types of bacteria: Gammaproteobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria. The both of the bacteria are important in the growth hormone secretion process of the plant as well as providing a protection against stressers like drought.

“We hope that our study will lead to other microbial ecology studies on desert oasis ecosystems; one of the most productive, yet unique, agroecosystems,” Maria Mosqueira continued to explain.


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