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Bioactive diterpenoids impact the composition of the root-associated microbiome in maize (Zea mays).


Plants deploy both primary and species-specific, specialized metabolites to communicate with other organisms and adapt to environmental challenges, including interactions with soil-dwelling microbial communities. However, the role of specialized metabolites in modulating plant-microbiome interactions often remains elusive. In this study, we report that maize (Zea mays) diterpenoid metabolites with known antifungal bioactivities also influence rhizosphere bacterial communities. Metabolite profiling showed that dolabralexins, antibiotic diterpenoids that are highly abundant in roots of some maize varieties, can be exuded from the roots. Comparative 16S rRNA gene sequencing determined the bacterial community composition of the maize mutant Zman2 (anther ear 2), which is deficient in dolabralexins and closely related bioactive kauralexin diterpenoids. The Zman2 rhizosphere microbiome differed significantly from the wild-type sibling with the most significant changes observed for Alphaproteobacteria of the order Sphingomonadales. Metabolomics analyses support that these differences are attributed to the diterpenoid deficiency of the Zman2 mutant, rather than other large-scale metabolome alterations. Together, these findings support physiological functions of maize diterpenoids beyond known chemical defenses, including the assembly of the rhizosphere microbiome.

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