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Issue 5, 2018
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Microbial small molecules – weapons of plant subversion

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Covering: up to 2018

Plants live in close association with a myriad of microbes that are generally harmless. However, the minority of microbes that are pathogens can severely impact crop quality and yield, thereby endangering food security. By contrast, beneficial microbes provide plants with important services, such as enhanced nutrient uptake and protection against pests and diseases. Like pathogens, beneficial microbes can modulate host immunity to efficiently colonize the nutrient-rich niches within and around the roots and aerial tissues of a plant, a phenomenon mirroring the establishment of commensal microbes in the human gut. Numerous ingenious mechanisms have been described by which pathogenic and beneficial microbes in the plant microbiome communicate with their host, including the delivery of immune-suppressive effector proteins and the production of phytohormones, toxins and other bioactive molecules. Plants signal to their associated microbes via exudation of photosynthetically fixed carbon sources, quorum-sensing mimicry molecules and selective secondary metabolites such as strigolactones and flavonoids. Molecular communication thus forms an integral part of the establishment of both beneficial and pathogenic plant–microbe relations. Here, we review the current knowledge on microbe-derived small molecules that can act as signalling compounds to stimulate plant growth and health by beneficial microbes on the one hand, but also as weapons for plant invasion by pathogens on the other. As an exemplary case, we used comparative genomics to assess the small molecule biosynthetic capabilities of the Pseudomonas genus; a genus rich in both plant pathogenic and beneficial microbes. We highlight the biosynthetic potential of individual microbial genomes and the population at large, providing evidence for the hypothesis that the distinction between detrimental and beneficial microbes is increasingly fading. Knowledge on the biosynthesis and molecular activity of microbial small molecules will aid in the development of successful biological agents boosting crop resiliency in a sustainable manner and could also provide scientific routes to pathogen inhibition or eradication.

Graphical abstract: Microbial small molecules – weapons of plant subversion

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Article information

07 Dec 2017
First published
14 May 2018

Nat. Prod. Rep., 2018,35, 410-433
Article type
Review Article

Microbial small molecules – weapons of plant subversion

I. A. Stringlis, H. Zhang, C. M. J. Pieterse, M. D. Bolton and R. de Jonge, Nat. Prod. Rep., 2018, 35, 410
DOI: 10.1039/C7NP00062F

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