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Applied and Environmental Microbiology Plant Microbiology

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Endophyte-Mediated Modulation of Defense-Related Genes and Systemic Resistance in Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal under Alternaria alternata Stress [Plant Microbiology]


Endophytes have been explored and found to perform an important role in plant health. However, their effects on the host physiological function and disease management remain elusive. The present study aimed to assess the potential effects of endophytes, singly as well as in combination, in Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal, on various physiological parameters and systemic defense mechanisms against Alternaria alternata. Seeds primed with the endophytic bacteria Bacillus amyloliquefaciens and Pseudomonas fluorescens individually and in combination demonstrated an enhanced vigor index and germination rate. Interestingly, plants treated with the two-microbe combination showed the lowest plant mortality rate (28%) under A. alternata stress. Physiological profiling of treated plants showed improved photosynthesis, respiration, transpiration, and stomatal conductance under pathogenic stress. Additionally, these endophytes not only augmented defense enzymes and antioxidant activity in treated plants but also enhanced the expression of salicylic acid- and jasmonic acid-responsive genes in the stressed plants. Reductions in reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) along with enhanced callose deposition in host plant leaves corroborated well with the above findings. Altogether, the study provides novel insights into the underlying mechanisms behind the tripartite interaction of endophyte-A. alternata-W. somnifera and underscores their ability to boost plant health under pathogen stress.

IMPORTANCE W. somnifera is well known for producing several medicinally important secondary metabolites. These secondary metabolites are required by various pharmaceutical sectors to produce life-saving drugs. However, the cultivation of W. somnifera faces severe challenge from leaf spot disease caused by A. alternata. To keep pace with the rising demand for this plant and considering its capacity for cultivation under field conditions, the present study was undertaken to develop approaches to enhance production of W. somnifera through intervention using endophytes. Application of bacterial endophytes not only suppresses the pathogenicity of A. alternata but also mitigates excessive ROS/RNS generation via enhanced physiological processes and antioxidant machinery. Expression profiling of plant defense-related genes further validates the efficacy of bacterial endophytes against leaf spot disease.