Leiden University, Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 64, 2333 AL Leiden, The Netherlands
We developed a novel procedure for the selection of a microbe-plant pair for the stable and efficient degradation of naphthalene. Based on the rationale that root exudate is the best nutrient source available in soil, the grass (Lolium multiflorum) cultivar Barmultra was selected because of its abilities to produce a highly branched root system, root deeply, and carry a high population of Pseudomonas spp. bacteria on its roots. Starting with a mixture of total rhizobacteria from grass-like vegetation collected from a heavily polluted site and selecting for stable naphthalene degradation as well as for efficient root colonization, Pseudomonas putida strain PCL1444 was isolated. The strain's ability to degrade naphthalene was shown to be stable in the rhizosphere. Moreover, it had superior root-colonizing properties because, after the inoculation of grass seedlings, it appeared to colonize the root tip up to 100-fold better than the efficient root colonizer Pseudomonas fluorescens WCS365. Strain PCL1444 uses root exudate as the dominant nutrient source because the presence of grass seedlings in soil results in up to a 10-fold increase of PCL1444 cells. Moreover, the root colonized by strain PCL1444 was able to penetrate through an agar layer, resulting in the degradation of naphthalene underneath this layer. In addition, the inoculation of grass seeds or seedlings with PCL1444 protected them against naphthalene phytotoxicity. Finally, this plant-microbe combination appeared able to degrade naphthalene from soil that was heavily polluted with a complex mixture of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. To our knowledge, this is the first time that a naturally occurring bacterium has been selected for the combination of the abilities to degrade a pollutant and colonize plant roots. We suggest that the principle described here, to select a bacterium which combines efficient root colonization with a beneficial activity, also can be used to improve the selection of other more efficient plant-bacterium pairs for beneficial purposes such as biocontrol, biofertilization, and phytostimulation.