Diazotrophic bacteria from maize exhibit multifaceted plant growth promotion traits in multiple hosts

Shawn M. Higdon, Tania Pozzo, Emily J. Tibbett, Colleen Chiu, Richard Jeannotte, Bart C. Weimer, Alan B. Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Sierra Mixe maize is a geographically remote landrace variety grown on nitrogen-deficient fields in Oaxaca, Mexico that meets its nutritional requirements without synthetic fertilizer by associating with free-living diazotrophs comprising the microbiota of its aerial root mucilage. We selected nearly 500 diazotrophic (N2-fixing) bacteria isolated from Sierra Mixe maize mucilage and sequenced their genomes. Comparative genomic analysis demonstrated that isolates represented diverse genera and composed three major diazotrophic groups based on nitrogen fixation gene content. In addition to nitrogen fixation, we examined deamination of 1-amino-1-cyclopropanecarboxylic acid, biosynthesis of indole-3-acetic acid, and phosphate solubilization as alternative mechanisms of direct plant growth promotion (PGP). Genome mining showed that isolates of all diazotrophic groups possessed marker genes for multiple mechanisms of direct plant growth promotion (PGP). Implementing in vitro assays corroborated isolate genotypes by measuring each isolate’s potential to confer the targeted PGP traits and revealed phenotypic variation among isolates based on diazotrophic group assignment. Investigating the ability of mucilage diazotrophs to confer PGP by direct inoculation of clonally propagated potato plants in planta led to the identification of 16 bio-stimulant candidates. Conducting nitrogen-stress greenhouse experiments demonstrated that potato inoculation with a synthetic community of bio-stimulant candidates, as well as with its individual components, resulted in PGP phenotypes. We further demonstrated that one diazotrophic isolate conferred PGP to a conventional maize variety under nitrogen-stress in the greenhouse. These results indicate that, while many diazotrophic isolates from Sierra Mixe maize possessed genotypes and in vitro phenotypes for targeted PGP traits, a subset of these organisms promoted the growth of potato and conventional maize, potentially through the use of multiple promotion mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0239081
JournalPloS one
Issue number9 september
StatePublished - Sep 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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