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Large-scale replicated field study of maize rhizosphere identifies heritable microbes

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Soil microbes that colonize plant roots and are responsive to differences in plant genotype remain to be ascertained for agronomically important crops. From a very large-scale longitudinal field study of 27 maize inbred lines planted in three fields, with partial replication 5 y later, we identify root-associated microbiota exhibiting reproducible associations with plant genotype. Analysis of 4,866 samples identified 143 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) whose variation in relative abundances across the samples was significantly regulated by plant genotype, and included five of seven core OTUs present in all samples. Plant genetic effects were significant amid the large effects of plant age on the rhizosphere microbiome, regardless of the specific community of each field, and despite microbiome responses to climate events. Seasonal patterns showed that the plant root microbiome is locally seeded, changes with plant growth, and responds to weather events. However, against this background of variation, specific taxa responded to differences in host genotype. If shown to have beneficial functions, microbes may be considered candidate traits for selective breeding.

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